The Wireless Industry Responds to a Historic Hurricane Season

The Wireless Industry Responds to a Historic Hurricane Season

September 25, 2017

After three once-in-a-generation hurricanes in 25 days, communities across Texas and Florida, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico are facing the recovery and rebuilding process of a lifetime. The wireless industry is there, on the ground, working around the clock to keep our mobile networks up and running—and restore them as quickly as possible if they went down.

As a country, we’ve faced these challenges before, with Katrina and Sandy. The wireless industry has too. That’s why carriers have invested millions to incorporate lessons learned from those devastating storms—and why we prepare so extensively in advance of major hurricanes.

As Harvey, Irma, and Maria approached, the wireless industry readied critical equipment, topping off fuel cartridges for backup generators and transporting additional fuel and refueling trucks into impacted regions.

Providers tested cell site batteries and brought in portable cells to extend networks. And they prepared emergency command centers and installed new in-building network systems at critical sites like hospitals and emergency centers.

These efforts—along with CTIA’s voluntary Wireless Network Resiliency Framework that enhances wireless service continuity—mean that wireless networks are more prepared when disaster strikes and can get back online faster. For instance, in south Texas, where there are thousands of cell sites, Harvey’s unprecedented floodwaters affected fewer than five percent of wireless cell sites.

But each hurricane is unique, as is how those storms impact a region’s critical infrastructure like roads and energy grids.

Electricity outages rolled across Florida, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands, for example—in Florida at one point, more than two-thirds of the state lost power, and in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, Irma and Maria knocked energy grids offline entirely. Combined with unrelenting winds and flooding that made many roads impassable, that meant wireless networks in those areas faced significant challenges.

After the storms passed, wireless providers rushed in to make repairs and bolster their networks, flying in portable generators and cell equipment and using new technologies to restore connectivity even faster. Carriers deployed microwave technologies to bridge gaps in service from damaged fiber lines and drones to survey cell towers to assess damage and undertake repairs quickly and safely.

Wireless providers continue to work with communities throughout the recovery efforts, expanding services for first responders, contributing to charitable relief efforts, facilitating Text to Give campaigns, and waiving fees and charges for customers to stay connected.

We’re proud that wireless served as a lifeline for so many in these recent storms. Providing that lifeline is the wireless industry’s goal every day—and that’s why since Katrina we’ve worked, and continue to work, closely with the FCC and other federal, state, and local officials.  

Thanks to those efforts, wireless networks across the country are stronger and more resilient than ever. And every storm helps illuminate where emergency preparedness efforts can improve.

Fortunately, the next generation of wireless, 5G, will further improve resiliency, since it depends on a denser network architecture, with multiple small cells deployed throughout service areas.

As impacted communities rebuild, they have an opportunity to be among the first to be designed and built for tomorrow’s wireless networks. Policymakers at the federal, state, and local level can ensure siting rules and processes are ready for our 5G investment that will help keep our communities more connected in the next emergency.

A special thanks to all those officials, the first responders, the volunteers and relief organizations like the Red Cross and Team Rubicon, and wireless personnel—from network technicians to customer service representatives—who continue to work to help these communities recover. And thanks to all those who have made charitable donations through short code messages, getting much-needed resources to organizations providing critical relief efforts.

America’s wireless industry stands with you because we know that it’s people that wireless networks connect, and the industry is proud to make those connections happen.

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