Communications in focus after blackout

Westland Mayor Bruce Smith. Photo: ODT files
Westland Mayor Bruce Smith. Photo: ODT files
No phones, no internet, no medical alarms, no eftpos, no cash machines - Westland Mayor Bruce Smith is putting the 34-hour communications blackout south of Hokitika on the agenda for the region’s next civil defence meeting.

Mr Smith, who heads the West Coast Civil Defence group, praised Chorus’ attempts to repair the main cable into Hokitika, after lightning fried it at Chesterfield.

He described it as an act of God.

While a second link was being laid through South Westland to connect with Lake Hawea, it would not be completed till next year.

During the telecommunications blackout earlier this week, the streets of Hokitika were deserted, retailers suffering another blow after the Covid-19 lockdown.

Mr Smith said it showed that if there was a major earthquake or flood, ‘‘we’re in deep trouble’’.

The answer could be putting in lots of satellite phones, he said.

‘‘I can assure you at the next meeting this will be a major topic.

‘‘We’ve got to find a better way.’’

The blackout had highlighted a raft of problems, he said.

Someone who was sick could not call a doctor; if they needed petrol to drive to hospital in Greymouth, they might struggle to pay as eftpos and ATMs were out of action.

Although $40,000 had been raised to get satellite phones into all South Westland schools, these could only text other satellite phones.

West Coast District Health Board southern integrated services manager Dave Smith said its clinics at Hari Hari, Whataroa, Franz Josef, Fox Glacier and Haast were able to continue operating in the outage.

‘‘All five clinics have satellite phones which can be used to liaise with Te Nikau Hospital and Health Centre, pharmacies and other services as needed,’’ he said.

‘‘We did not need to reschedule any Westland-based Covid-19 vaccination clinics.’’

West Coast Regional Council chairman Allan Birchfield was also unimpressed.

Another issue was the fuel shortage that would ensue after a major disaster, due to a lack of storage.

‘‘I’m like a broken record,’’ he said.

‘‘We need to get some storage. They’ve been looking at it for years and nothing happens. They spend all the money on salaries. [Fuel and communications] are the sorts of things we should be looking at.’’

Asked where the buck stopped, he replied, ‘‘good question".

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