As Hurricane Katrina strains resources, some tower firms declining restoration service requests
September 6, 2005 - Tower service companies are carefully weighing whether theyNetwork Restoration can provide the manpower to assist in the communications restoration efforts in the wake of Hurricane Katrina at a time when some company resources are already stretched as tight as a drum. 

Two of the nation's largest tower service businesses requested that they did not want their companies mentioned, but told that although they have been asked to provide proposals for restoration teams, they have decided not to dedicate employees to the rebuilding effort.

"It's difficult as it is to maintain our current workload," explained one regional manager who has headed previous emergency communications projects, stating that they can't alienate carriers and management companies that are currently straining their resources to complete ongoing UMTS and other projects throughout the country.

Other companies throughout the nation have already committed reconstruction and maintenance crews. Recovery efforts have begun in all devastated Gulf States. Motorola has marshaled more than 300 employees and subcontractors in Baton Rouge, LA where they are trying to assess and provide temporary services for public safety providers.

The hardest hit area, Motorola says, is in Plaquemines Parish, one of 20 Motorola public safety customers in the area. New Orleans is one of the few major cities that doesn't have a Motorola system.

Many tower communications companies are racing to offer their repair services and products to carriers and other affected by Katrina. Although part of their interest is surely humanitarian, the greater desire is pure capitalism at work. The rebuilding effort will be profitable for many companies from the giants of industry such as Halliburton to small tower erectors who are currently scrambling to find out how they can get on the repair bandwagon to turn a tragedy into an opportunity.

Billions of dollars worth of equipment has been lost or is in need of significant repair. BellSouth released initial financial estimates of between $400 million and $600 million for both capital and expenses for network restoration.

(If you would like to discuss the recovery effort or let others know about your company’s capabilities to assist in the rebuilding of the Gulf Coastcommunications infrastructure, please start a new thread in our discussion forum under Hurricane Katrina Recovery Efforts)

Risks and rewards need to be weighed
Although a fragile semblance of order has returned to New Orleans and other Gulf Coast cities, tower companies are finding that what they're seeing exceeds anything they could have imagined. Last Thursday, according to a Louisiana State Police report, two rival New Orleans gangs crossed water-logged turfs to battle, but first riddled a cell site with automatic weapons fire so that their actions couldn't be reported.

Bruce Holsted, an Arkansas tower service company owner who has responded to numerous emergency recovery efforts over the years, provided us with his Labor Day notes from the field after a few long and difficult days repairing communications sites in Mississippi and Louisiana for Entergy, an electric and gas supplier.

A random sampling of contractors by identified different pricing schedules being provided for similar scopes of work. The damage exceeded the foresight of emergency planners and many of them found it necessary to renegotiate existing emergency preparedness contracts and seek other supplier and service sources.

Veteran service contractors are cautioning companies to be careful before submitting service fee pricing. They say that the best agreement for the client and contractor is to have a portal to portal rate with a minimum of an eight hour day per man, and time and a half after eight hours. Whereas many projects begin when the contractor is on site, they say this is unacceptable since sometimes it will take two hours to travel ten miles. Also, man-hour rates are typically higher due to the difficult working and lodging conditions that will be encountered. As with any project, but particularly more important in this environment where management will change frequently, it's imperative that accurate time and material sheets are submitted and approved on a daily basis. Some companies will find it necessary to hire additional employees to handle the administrative load.

A few contractors registered their concern after being told to set aside multiple crews for immediate mobilization; they say they have been waiting a week to begin any work. Others have been told that their restoration resources were not needed after they staffed for the client's needs.

Employees are energized during the first four to six weeks due to the desire of workers to assist wherever possible. However, long hours, cramped and difficult living conditions, and limited stress relieving activities can cause discontent and an unsafe work environment. Contractors will have to rotate workers so that they have an opportunity to return home and decompress. In the Gulf Coast ravaged area, transportation will be limited and air travel will be expensive and is oftentimes included in pricing proposals.

Although some larger recreational vehicles can accommodate four or more people, if they're available, their weekly rental rates can be $1,600 or more per week plus mileage. Fuel for vehicles and generators will be considerable as gas and diesel rates continue to climb.

Wireless carriers continued to make progress in re-establishing wireless communications. T-mobile fired up a high-capacity cell site this past weekend on top of the Crowne Plaza Hotel Astor on Canal Street in New Orleans. However, until cell systems are operational again, two-way radios will be in high demand as will the limited supply of satellite phones. Employees may have to travel an hour just to find internet service to send their daily reports. Along with crawfish Étouffée and other pre-Katrina enjoyments, overnight equipment deliveries to the jobsite will no longer be available. In addition, some suppliers are already four to eight weeks out on orders. Restaurant and home cooked meals will go into exile.

Maps will replace MapQuest searches. GPS devices will strengthen their lead as the navigation tool of choice.  Cash, gas, generator, tents and rations will be needed as essentials to weather the initial weeks of work.