Although damages from Hurricane Matthew along the east coast are still being assessed, the report on how carriers managed wireless communications with hardened sites and cell site service by the nation’s wireless contractors is in – and they are getting high marks.
While there were a sporadic reports of outages on downdetector.com, service has been generally excellent in the effected storm areas and the major carriers have not reported any wide-spread infrastructure problems.
Ironically, while doing pre-storm testing on Thursday afternoon prior to the Matthew’s arrival, Verizon Wireless had a connectivity issue and as many as 120 cell sites in northeastern North Carolina and southeastern Virginia were affected when an electrical failure occurred. Service was restored a few hours later.
On Friday, according to Liberty County, Ga. Administrator Joey Brown, one of the main cell towers owned by Verizon and utilized by several cell carriers and Comcast cable, has fiber optics wires that are damaged and in need of repair.
Brown said that Verizon had workers reconnecting the fiber optic cables and checking the tower. It was repaired the following day.
As Matthew was tracking toward Florida’s east coast on Thursday, AT&T said it was ready with their disaster response equipment and personnel on standby.
“We’re currently topping off generators at our cell sites with fuel. The sites are equipped with high-capacity back-up batteries. We have staged emergency response equipment in strategic locations, if needed. Our national reliability center is monitoring outages for quick action,” the company said in a statement.
AT&T also noted that it had improved their network redundancy in storm-prone areas by installing installed more generators at critical cell towers and switching facilities, and moving electronics key to network operations above expected flood levels.
The AT&T National Disaster Recovery (NDR) program, with more than 320 technology and equipment trailers, is one of the industry’s largest and most advanced disaster response programs.
After Hurricane Sandy crippled cell service in parts of New York and New Jersey, in April, the House Energy and Commerce Committee and CTIA the Wireless Association released the “Wireless Network Resiliency Cooperative Framework” with the backing of AT&T Inc., Sprint Corp., T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular and Verizon Communications.
The framework contained five key points to enhance coordination:
(1) Providing for reasonable roaming under disasters arrangements when technically feasible;
(2) Fostering mutual aid during emergencies;
(3) Enhancing municipal preparedness and restoration;
(4) Increasing consumer readiness and preparation; and
(5) Improving public awareness and stakeholder communications on service and restoration status.
Following Hurricane Sandy in 2012 which knocked out 25% of all cell sites in its path, Verizon’s hardened network appeared to be more stable with the company stating that only 6% of its sites went down.
Hurricane Matthew continued to wreak havoc on North Carolina today, leaving 10 dead, 1,500 stranded by flooding and several counties under severe flooding threats, including a town of 2,000 that remains under a mandatory evacuation.
A number of contractors have been resupplying fuel to generators at cell sites.
The National Association of Tower Erectors (NATE), in a statement, said many of the hazards posed to workers will occur immediately after the storm has passed, such as cleanup and restoration work. Workers and volunteers involved with flood cleanup should be aware of the potential dangers involved and the proper safety precautions, NATE said. Work-related hazards that could be encountered include: electrical hazards, carbon monoxide, musculoskeletal hazards, heat stress, motor vehicles, hazardous materials, fire, confined spaces and falls.
“As part of NATE’s dedication to the health and safety of all NATE members and their employees, the Association wants you to be aware of this information highlighting hurricane preparedness and response from the OSHA website below. Remind everyone that their lives and the lives of their fellow workers depend on the decisions they make. The rush to fix a problem or deploy a site can seem overriding, but the cost of an accident is far more disruptive to a company than any service outage,” NATE said.