CFA douses networking issues following Black Saturday bushfires

Victorian Country Fire Authority has bandwidth on demand when an emergency occurs

Country Fire Authority (CFA) volunteers get ready to battle bushfires in Victoria.

Country Fire Authority (CFA) volunteers get ready to battle bushfires in Victoria.

The Black Saturday fires on 7 February 2009 which threatened much of Victoria was the catalyst for improvements in IT networking and incident response at the Country Fire Authority (CFA).

Speaking at Cisco Live in Melbourne, CFA IT operations manager Gary Phillips told delegates that every CFA site used Unix and file servers in 2009.

“What happened out of the Royal Commission report into the fires was that we were given some direction and funding,” he said.

“The direction that we were given was that we would be interoperable with other agencies and provide a robust information channel to the Victorian public.”

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The CFA now has 170 brigades that have been fitted out with what Phillips described as “substantial” IT network facilities and bandwidth provided by Telstra that is typically used for about one month every year during the peak bushfire season.

“From an IT operations perspective, this is a real difficulty for me having so many resources out in the state that are idle,” Phillips said.

“What we have been doing is working with our partners such as Telstra to wind bandwidth back and wind it up on demand.”

However, he said that this was difficult for the CFA as it can’t predict when an emergency is going to happen.

“What we get is a warning at 5PM that tomorrow there is going to be a total fire ban.”

However, he said that Telstra has been able to provision bandwidth when needed.

“Emergency services don’t get a break so when everything is at its worse, we are supposed to be at our best,” he said.

According to Phillips, he manages 3500 desktops and has enabled email and Exchange services through the use of its storage layer.

“Following Black Saturday, we were able to deploy 5000 mailboxes for emergency services. This is something we wouldn’t have attempted to do on our old servers. “

Hamish Barwick travelled to Cisco Live in Melbourne as a guest of Cisco

Follow Hamish Barwick on Twitter: @HamishBarwick

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU, or take part in the Computerworld conversation on LinkedIn: Computerworld Australia

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