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January 27, 2015

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Alone in the Outback: Protecting lone workers when mobile signal fails

By Jeff Carroll

Few places are vaster than the Australian outback. But unlike other areas around the globe that we think of as ‘remote’, the Outback, far from being deserted, is home to many people who require the same services as any other community.

When I began working with companies whose employees venture into and between areas in the Outback I was surprised that their biggest concern for lone workers wasn’t what I (as someone in the over-populated and geographically sedate UK) expected. It’s not the terrain or climate that worries them the most, although of course these need to be highly respected and trained for. Their biggest concern is lack of connectivity. They know that emergencies can and will happen, as they do everywhere, but the unique challenge they face is making sure that contact can be made between a lone worker and their employer when they do.

When you are out on the road in the middle of nowhere, or in a client’s home and something happens, how does anyone know you need help if you don’t have any phone signal? Most lone worker devices and panic button apps rely on being connected to a phone network in order to work, which means they can be rendered useless if you are too far off the beaten track.

Lack of connectivity is an issue that we have begun to tackle with Country North South Australia Medicare Local (CNSAML) who organise and manage local front-line health services over a vast geographical area, including the Outback. To mitigate the risk to employees who travel through signal blackspots they needed a personal safety device that could cope with being in and out of mobile coverage.

We’ve worked with them to launch a personal safety app which uses GPS to locate their employees on a map in real-time. Rather than a session terminating if signal fails and an employee being lost on the system, the app automatically re-locates them each time they come back in range. If an employee goes through a signal black spot CNSAML know how long they have been out of range and when they would expect them to be back online. If they don’t reappear, they can send help to their last known co-ordinates along with an accurate time frame for how long they have been missing. It doesn’t solve the connectivity issue completely but it does give far greater accuracy for finding an employee who may be in difficulty – which for somewhere as remote and vast as the Outback is essential.

Jeff Carroll is Operations Director at lone worker security experts StaySafe.

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Will Murray
Will Murray
9 years ago

Another more effective way to mitigate against areas of poor mobile signal coverage is to provide “roaming” SIM cards in the personal safety device. These can utilise the strongest signal (or indeed any) available across all mobile networks.

Bob Wallace
Bob Wallace
9 years ago

Why not eliminate the risk of mobile phone coverage and use short wave radios! Don’t be obsessed by new technology, when the old is more efficient and also more robust. May not be sexy, but we’re all supposed to be offering practical and sensible solutions to problems after all.

8 years ago

Cell phone apps are really not up to the risks or challenge of protecting remote workers regardless the network challenges. And even less so in many terrains around Australia and New Zealand. Radio or satellite is far more robust and reliable. The Iridium satellite network has literally no black spots. In vehicle hybrid solutions which combine cell with Iridium as required and use pendants/bracelets with man down/duress functionality which sends back to the vehilce via RF is without a doubt the best solution currently available. The RF use overcomes the limitation of satellite inside buildings. Cell based devies are best… Read more »