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Broadband upgrade improves response times for cave rescue team

The South and Mid Wales Cave Rescue Team has switched on a new ultrafast broadband connection to help its members react more quickly in life-threatening emergencies

The South and Mid Wales Cave Rescue Team (SMWCRT) is hoping to shave vital minutes off its emergency response times after being upgraded to a full-fibre – or fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) – broadband connection at its Penwyllt base near Swansea with support from national network builder Openreach.

In an emergency, the team relies on being able to contact all of its 180 trained volunteer members in minutes, and with a catchment area covering an area of Wales stretching from the Bristol Channel all the way to the southern edge of Snowdonia, they may have to travel long distances to some of the remotest parts of the UK, so time is of the essence in any situation.

With a direct fibre connection to its local exchange, SMWCRT said it can now ditch its traditional telephone- and paper-based systems and track down and deploy its members at the touch of a button, as well as make better use of online rescue software, and access real-time data such as accurate local weather forecasts, all of which could help it save valuable time during a rescue operation.

“South Wales is an attractive location for cavers with a passion for exploring as it has some of the deepest and longest caves in the UK,” said SMWCRT chair Dan Thorne. “When we are called out, we have to mobilise the right resources to the right location in a timely manner.

“Some of our rescues last for days, and within that sort of time period you need to plan ahead, swapping team members, sourcing food, checking the weather and dealing with our rescue partners. Having fast and reliable access to the internet will help in almost every aspect of planning for a rescue.”

Thorne added: “With an ultrafast broadband connection, which wasn’t available to us until now, our surface controllers can now be based at our depot in Penwyllt, and can be confident that the information they need is available in superfast speed.”

SMWCRT – which made international headlines in 2018 after its members played a decisive role in the safe rescue of 12 boys and their coach from 2.5km underground in the flooded Tham Luang Nang Non cave system in Thailand – works with three police forces and two fire brigades, and also provides technical support to mountain rescue teams and assistance in animal rescues and road traffic accidents.

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The connection was deployed on top of already-established fibre backhaul infrastructure built under the auspices of the Superfast Cymru Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) programme, which was jointly funded by Openreach (then fully part of the BT Group), the devolved Welsh government and Westminster.

Kirsty Williams, Welsh Assembly member for Brecon and Radnorshire, added: “The rescue team do such great work and I’m pleased to see this improved connection being secured. It’s an issue I’ve been pursuing and I’m pleased my letter to the minister for digital has prompted some action.

“I recently visited the team and heard about how better broadband would help them, so I’m really looking forward to seeing the improvements this new connection will bring for this valuable service.”

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