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August 25, 2019

When You Need Wireless Most .

When You Need Wireless Most


CTIA CEO Meredith Attwell Baker
Meredith Attwell Baker
President & CEO

As a Houstonian, I watched in dread as my hometown was inundated by Hurricane Harvey two years ago today. 135,000 homes were damaged or destroyed. Mercifully, my dad’s house was not one of them.

I knew he was safe because he was able to keep me updated with texts and calls throughout the storm.

Houston is not alone. In too many communities, natural disasters from floods to fires have taken a human toll—lost and displaced lives. In each instance, our loved ones rely on cellphones to reach us and to get help from first responders.

Like, Jon, Lauren and their four children. They were rescued during Harvey because they were able to reach help with their cellphone. They even filmed their escape on their phones. There are countless stories like this in every storm and disaster.


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For Lauren, Jon and their four children, wireless was critical during Hurricane Harvey. Hear how wireless connectivity led to their rescue.

It is something the U.S. wireless industry is very proud of, and a responsibility we take very seriously.

The story we do not tell as much is how we keep wireless up and running in the most harrowing conditions. While the news coverage understandably focuses on where power, infrastructure, and cell sites are down, what gets lost is the story of how we keep wireless up and running in the most harrowing conditions.

Amazingly, only 4% of cell sites went down in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. In less than a week’s time, 98% of cell sites were operational, despite once-in-a-lifetime flooding.

But those stats actually mask our true recovery efforts. Before the storm hits, we move our recovery teams and key resources into the area, including  COWs, COLTs and even flying COWs.

It sounds like a petting zoo, but it actually is one of the most impressive things you will see. COWs are Cell on Wheels— and those COLTs are Cells on Light Trucks. We haul them in while recovery efforts are ongoing to help make sure people like Jon and Lauren – and my dad – can complete the most important call or text they may ever make, even while their normal cell tower is down.

If the power is out, no problem. We access portable generators. If the fiber is cut, we can fix it with satellite or microwave backhaul links. And if the roads are impassable even days after a storm, that’s where the flying COWs—cells on drones and balloons—fit in.

But our work goes beyond network recovery to directly helping those impacted. We help our customers get back on their feet by waiving fees, opening mobile charging stations, handing out new devices or portable batteries, and raising money through text messaging campaigns.

Not every storm is the same, and severe storms can knock out the entire infrastructure of a community, so we continue to evolve. As we learn more and more from each recovery effort, we get smarter and more efficient in our ability to respond and help more people stay connected.

With the strong leadership of Representative Pallone—whose district was ravaged by Superstorm Sandy—the wireless industry came together three years ago to establish a network resiliency framework to help partner with local communities in the aftermath of storms and work together to restore service. Cooperation and collaboration are the cornerstones, and it’s working.

Wireless Emergency Alerts

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Wireless Emergency Alerts

7,098 Wireless Emergency Alerts were sent across the nation by public safety authorities in 2018.

We are also working with FCC Chairman Pai to enhance the capabilities of Wireless Emergency Alerts, another tool brought to you by the wireless industry to keep you safe in times of emergency. Just last year, public safety authorities sent 7,098 WEA alerts across the nation.

I hope your family is never impacted by a disaster like Harvey. If it ever is, your friends in wireless are with you. The U.S. wireless industry spends every day trying to make your life easier and more connected. On your worst days, we work hard to make you safer. I hope all of you stay safe this hurricane and fire season.

To learn more about our industries efforts, and to see more stories like Jon and Lauren, visit

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