Telecom snubs media when phones went dead

HEATHER SIMPSON
Last updated 08:56 14/05/2014

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Telecom says it was a "judgment call" not to inform the Marlborough Express and other news media about the telecommunications blackout in Kaikoura after the pre-Easter storms.

Kaikoura was battered by heavy rain leaving phone, mobile and internet connections down on Good Friday.

Thousands of Easter travellers were stranded in Kaikoura after land slips shut State Highway 1. Frustrated travellers, who bedded down in their cars during the storm surge, were unable to contact family and friends.

Chorus said fibre-optic cable at both ends of the town were cut by slips. Mobile phones were down because the transmitter site connected to the network used the same landlines.

A debrief meeting discussing the emergency response to the storm was told it remained unclear whose responsibility it was to contact media.

Police said it was the duty of telecommunications companies to issue media releases about the network outage.

The Marlborough Express website updated the region on road closures and service disruption over the Easter period but was not informed of the cut-off telecommunications.

Telecom communications officer Lucy Fullarton said outage alerts would have been sent to the emergency services call centre.

She said no news release was issued but, where possible, Telecom responded to social-media queries and updated its website.

"When it comes to communicating directly with customers, we always make a judgment call as to what is the most effective way to let people know what is going on in the most timely manner," Fullarton said.

"We didn't think that sending a media release to news organisations would allow us to be as targeted or as timely as we needed to be in communicating about this incident.

"We understand how heavily people rely on mobile and phone services, and how frustrating it can be when these are not available, and so we are always thinking about how we can do better to keep people informed when weather events hit."

Kaikoura's Alpine Pacific Holiday Park owner Lee Boot said she had depended on information filtered down by stranded truck drivers who had access to radio communication.

"We had an awful lot of people begging for beds. People couldn't contact us to cancel and we couldn't contact them to release the beds.

"We received no information from Kaikoura District Council or Civil Defence which was disappointing. They should have taken a trip around town and told us what was going on. It didn't take a brain scientist to work out we needed an emergency plan."

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- The Marlborough Express

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