Following the fires in Pedrógão Grande, in July and within the scope of its assigned powers and responsibilities, especially as under point m) of paragraph 1 of article 8 of its Statutes - "to provide for the maintenance of the integrity and security of public communications networks and of publicly available services, including national and international interconnections", point c) of paragraph 1 of article 5 - "to promote the interests of citizens, pursuant to the present law", and point f) of paragraph 4 of article 5 - "ensuring that the integrity and security of public communications networks are maintained", ANACOM began an assessment of the impact of forest fires on the infrastructure of electronic communications networks.
In this context, ANACOM has established an on-going action plan which includes:
- The performance of a site survey;
- The establishment of contacts with suppliers and installers of communications cables and poles to acquire better knowledge of the offers existing in the market and of the options available to operators in terms of technical anti-fire characteristics;
- Meetings with electronic communications companies (and other companies to be identified) for the purpose of obtaining additional information;
- Meetings with entities external to the sector seen as having information or seen to be carrying out relevant actions.
As regards the site survey, which has already been concluded, it was sought to observe and characterise the existing situation in terms of the vulnerability of radiocommunication stations and poles, cables and aerial routes to forest fires where located in areas of high forest fire hazard: designated "High" (class IV) and "Very high" (class V) by ICNF. In the first phase, a visit was made to the area of Pinhal Interior corresponding to the fire area of Pedrógão Grande, and, in a second phase, the sample was extended to the Algarve and to the North.
As a result, ANACOM visited 48 radiocommunications stations and various network routes, and subsequently produced a detailed report identifying a number of situations with regard to:
- Radiocommunications stations
- Some have dried leaves and branches inside the fenced enclosure, one contains dense vegetation;
- Stations are surrounded by vegetation without a zone of separation, and sometimes the tree tops encroach over the fenced enclosure;
- The entry of cable into the station areas does not follow a uniform pattern and sometimes the entrances are sited within the surrounding vegetation;
- Cable transits were unprotected;
- The stations are normally supplied at low voltage and by means of an aerial route.
- Pole, cables and aerial routes
- The use of aerial cable transits is by far the most common;
- Poles, with rare exceptions, are wooden and provide no indication of the identify of their owner or of any owner contact, sometimes with a number painted on them (one or two figures) that apparently indicates the position of the pole in the route;
- Aerial routes, near roads or in forest areas, are sited within vegetation without protection/separation zones; poles and communications cables cross treetops, and at their base, are surrounded by undergrowth;
- When they catch fire, poles are reduced to ashes; where the undergrowth surrounding a pole catches fire, this enough to cause the base of the pole to catch fire, causing the pole to break.
- As a result of the fire, cables either melt or they are left suspended in the burned treetops or lying along the ground.
Contacts were made in order to identify companies in Portugal that sell machines used in the installation of cables in underground routes, using horizontal directed drilling techniques or micro or mini trenches, in asphalt or dirt; as a result, ANACOM confirmed that these solutions are available for use in Portugal.
ANACOM also confirmed the existence on the market of techniques for protecting wooden poles (where already installed or due to be installed) against the combustion of surrounding ground vegetation; these include the application of special paints or protective coatings.
The market also provides for communications cables with technical characteristics that make them more resistant to fire and therefore more suitable for situations of increased fire hazard.