Community pushes for cell coverage
While some holidaymakers take to the coast to escape the demands of a constantly ringing phone, a Manawatu beach community is uneasy about staring down another summer without cellphone coverage.
The Himatangi Beach Community Trust has now sent a proposal to the Ministry of Communications, Civil Defence and telecommunications providers requesting cellphone coverage by this summer for safety reasons.
Emergency services are backing the proposal for the Government to fast-track installation of a cellphone transmission tower for the area.
Himatangi Beach is in line for the Government's Rural Broadband Initiative rollout which began mid-2011, and telecommunications providers are in negotiation with a landowner to install a tower. However, Himatangi Beach Community Trust chairman Brian Rosvall and resident Richard Bowen understood the process could take some years, as resource consents would need to be obtained. There has been an effort to rally Himatangi residents in the hope they can press for faster construction.
Foxton Community Constable Chris Barclay said no cellphone reception at a popular beach was unacceptable for police, especially as beach-goers could swell the summer population to up to 5000.
"We are now in the 21st century and not being able to access the technology which exists for the vast majority of New Zealanders is somewhat frustrating," he said.
A recent death on the beach could "possibly have been prevented" if cellphone coverage had been available, the trust's report said.
Earlier this year the family of a drowning victim had tried to call for help, climbing a sand dune to search for reception, to no avail. By the time emergency services arrived the man was unable to be resuscitated.
In her letter of support, Himatangi Beach warden Elaine Pinker said a repeater had been installed by the police during the summer months, allowing her to use a police radio for communication. But that had been removed and now she had no way of communicating from the beach.
Mrs Pinker recounted she once had to leave a near-drowning victim to drive her quad bike to search for cellphone reception to raise the alarm, and on another occasion she was forced to leave someone suffering a suspected heart attack behind so she could make an emergency call "using up precious survival time".
The beach's volunteer fire brigade chief, Wayne Dear, weighed in, saying firefighters had limited ability to stay in contact with people during emergencies and they had no way of contacting ambulances when attending a scene.
Horizons Regional Council emergency management officer Ross Brannigan also wrote in support, calling Himatangi an "important strategic location" for Civil Defence as Manawatu's most populous coastal community. He praised the community's efforts to take action.
MP for Rangitikei Ian McKelvie backed the community. He said the issue had been many years in the making.
"They certainly have got my support. These things take a little more effort when you're off the main road."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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