South Westland Area School faces the real threat of impassable roads and downed phone lines, with 100 children in their care.
To visiting tourists, South Westland is stunning in its raw beauty. They see Franz Josef Glacier and the towering Southern Alps, and marvel at how rugged and wild this part of the country is.
For locals, those mountains carry a different meaning. They warn of devastating earthquakes, landslides, and trapped clouds that unleash torrents of destructive rain – all of which can cut them off from the rest of the world.
South Westland Area School (SWAS) stands in Hari Hari, halfway between Hokitika and Franz Josef under the shadow of the Southern Alps. The school is no stranger to the forces of nature — increasingly, roads that the students travel to and from school are being closed due to extreme weather events, which also threaten communication lines.
Nick Glancy, deputy principal at SWAS, is currently on a mission to prepare the school for natural events like these, after advice from Civil Defence that it may take three weeks to reach them if a major earthquake strikes.
For Nick, the top priority was to be able to communicate with the outside world:
“The kids travel a long way by bus. If the roads aren’t passable, we’d have 90 kids stuck here, from 5-year-olds through to 17-year-olds.
Their parents would be anxious and already on a couple of occasions we’ve lost communication and had no way to let people know how we are because of various events.”
Wireless Nation saw the need for reliable emergency communication, and had exactly the solution to offer in aid
Following an appearance on national radio to talk about their situation, Nick received a phone call from Jason, our Commercial Solutions Manager at Wireless Nation
“We’d been getting along on a wing and a prayer … then Jason contacted me to say ‘Hey, we’ve got a solution if you’d like it as a gift’”
Jason was in South Westland to replace Wireless Nation’s satellite system installed at Fox Glacier’s Civil Defence Station, and offered to gift the second-hand unit to the school. Only a couple of years old and still in perfect working order, the satellite communication system would ensure a powerful and secure connection, safeguarding the school’s ability to connect with emergency services and parents in any situation.
“There is very little cellphone coverage in the area, and in weather events like high winds trees knock out the lines and then we’ve got no communications … now we have a way to get a phone or internet connection if all that happens.”
At Wireless Nation, we’re teachers too
Unable to stay in Hari Hari to train the school teachers to use this new satellite system, Jason’s taken on the task from afar, calling in remotely to talk them through setting it up, locating satellites to find a signal, and finally connecting it to their computers and phones.
“Jason has been very patient with me. Doing it remotely has been very cool, and we’ve also had help from the local electrician here.
It’s taken a while to set up, due to time and weather constraints, but now it’s in place and up and running at last.”
The school is planning to use this new system as an educational tool to teach interested students how satellite technology works, and involve them in practice drills so they’re empowered to step up and assist in a time of need.
“From here, we need more staff on board, then we can open it up to the students. It’s quite a system with a number of wires going various ways and buttons to be pressed … but we’ve got it 80% rigged up now so when it’s needed, there’s just a few simple steps to have it up and running.”
A new lifeline for the community
Thanks to Wireless Nation’s satellite communication system, South Westland Area School now have the capability to communicate with the outside world in a natural disaster. With this life-saving tool, they’ll be able to make contact with agencies, parents, and the community in a matter of minutes.
“We are an isolated community, and the school is the focus of the community. Once people know it’s here and available in an emergency, they know to come here and it becomes a gathering space – a hub for the community to communicate to the outside world in times of need.”
“We’re incredibly grateful to Jason, and Wireless Nation. It’s a very generous gesture and something that’s going to be really valuable for the school and our community.”