Ellon Probus Club hears about BT

At the meeting of Ellon Probus Club on August 12, members were entertained by local resident Forbes Hamilton to an in-depth description of the workings of British Telecom (BT) with regard to international disasters and the problems associated with establishing emergency communication systems.

Forbes, a man of considerable wit, spent his working career with BT, starting off when it was formerly known as the GPO.

There he progressed through the ranks from maintenance man at local exchanges to eventually reach the upper echelons in BT co-ordination and management.

En route he passed through the eras of communications via copper wire to today’s internet, WiFi and satellite systems - each presenting its own set of demands and challenges.

Most people tend to think of BT as a phone and broadband supplier with its vans forever running around the countryside and its employees squatting in temporary tents trying to sort out and reconnect a myriad of wires in some junction box or other.

Little is known about the international role BT plays, particularly in setting up emergency communication systems in areas of major national disaster, often in remote and relatively inaccessible places.

Forbes illustrated this with reference to the Indonesian tsunami of 2004 and the mega earthquake in Kashmir in 2005 when the resources of equipment held by BT and the pool of dedicated staff trained specifically for such events were called into play.

Despite various delays, in both the above instances, due primarily to petty officialdom and red tape, satellite systems were set up, mobile phones were working again and salvage teams were able to start helping to relieve the local people.

Members were much impressed with this little-known but hugely important field of work undertaken by BT. The vote of thanks was given by Duncan Milne.

The next meeting on August 28 is entitled “August 1914”.