MOBILE, Ala. (WALA)– When a tropical storm or hurricane strikes it’s never more important to stay connected whether it’s a first responder, someone in danger or families trying to reach loved ones.
The cellular networks and internet companies we count on to stay connected know how dependent we are on them.
“People are relying on that critical connectivity and we want to ensure that we’re giving them that connectivity when they need it most,” said Kate Jay, Public Relations manager for Verizon Wireless’ south area.
Many of these networks prepare well before a storm is approaching, even year round to make sure they’re equipped to provide connectivity in crisis situations.
“They’ve engineered the network with redundancies built in so that if we have damage in one part of the network it’ll keep running.”
When preparing for a hurricane something as simple as putting sand down to protect their building from flooding makes a huge impact.
“We maintain all of our central offices and do system checks because there’s different equipment based on where you are, and looking at the landscape as well we have to make sure water cannot enter the building. We put sand down… there’s a lot of little things we do that make a big difference,” said Melanie Williams, Senior Vice President Operations of Frontier Communications‘ South Region.
Most companies have engineers and technicians who monitor their network traffic and weather impacts from command centers.
“What we would do is work with our national team so they could take over quickly and support our customers and keep them connected,” said Williams.
Rerouting traffic and sending out technology and support trailers, even using surveillance drones to help assess and respond to storm damage.
“We also set alarms so we, if there’s a customer issue, if there’s a public official issue that we know about it before they even know about it.”
Commercial power loss is a major threat to these companies which rely heavily on generators to back up cell sites and keep their network running for several days when power goes out.
“The vast majority of our cell sites have backup generators, so commercial power going out that’s a big issue with storms. So if the commercial power goes out we have backup generators that can keep those cell sites running without that commercial power,” said Jay.
Along with high capacity backup batteries, many companies have portable generators topped off and ready to go making sure to save fuel, pre-arrange fuel deliveries and even have tankers in place to quickly respond to hard hit areas and keep those generators running.
Upon landfall some companies will “beef up” their network in hurricane prone areas, boosting their network capacity to increase call volume.
Mobile cell sites are also key to maintaining communication.
“If we have damage to our towers we have a fleet of mobile assets that we can bring in,” said Jay.
From cell on wings, or drones capable of delivering wireless service from the sky, to cell on wheels or on light trucks, which can be driven to impacted areas and help restore connectivity if lost.
“One of the newer things that we have in that fleet is a fleet of satellite assets should you have a loss of fiber to fiber is a key piece of connectivity to cell sites back to our main hub so if we have extensive fiber damage or damage to microwave we can bring in these satellite assets and then we have dedicated satellite links to make sure that we provide that connectivity should we have damage to our infrastructure.”
In the past some companies have offered wifi hotspots, charging stations and other resources to entire communities, regardless of carriers following a devastating storm.
When it comes to communication you’ll want to make sure your family has a plan to stay connected.
When a storm is approaching, charge all of your devices and consider buying a portable charger and make sure to back up any important information on your phone or computer.
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