In response to a current article published about service restoration after a natural disaster. It should be noted that in today’s society our communications medium is wireless and is also susceptible to nature, therefore restoration of these services is vital in getting help where it is needed. Pre-planning for these type of events needs to be reviewed in more depth!
In a statement FCC Chairman Ajit Pai criticized wireless carriers for not quickly restoring service in areas affected by Hurricane Michael and said the carriers should waive the October bills of Floridians in the affected areas.
The statement followed an Oct. 16 tweet from Florida Gov. Rick Scott that said: “Families experiencing prolonged service outages should be able to switch to currently working providers without penalty, bills for these families that have been without service should be waived for October, & companies should be open & transparent until comms are fully restored.”
“Even though efforts to restore communications services have been going well in most of the areas affected by Hurricane Michael, the slow progress in restoring wireless service in areas close to where the hurricane made landfall is completely unacceptable,” Pai said. “While the FCC has been in regular contact with companies serving the affected areas, I’m concerned that their actions on the ground aren’t matching the urgency that we have conveyed during those conversations.
“I am therefore joining Governor Scott in calling on wireless carriers to waive the bills of Floridians in these affected areas for the month of October and to allow them to change carriers without penalty. These carriers also need to immediately disclose publicly to Floridians how they will quickly restore service. In addition, I have directed our Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau to promptly initiate an investigation into this matter.”
The FCC’s Oct. 16 status report for Hurricane Michael said that although the hurricane seriously impacted communications services in the Florida Panhandle and parts of Georgia, some improvements are evident, especially in wireless services. In Georgia, the percentage of cell sites out of service dropped during the past five days from 14.2 percent to 0.4 percent. In the Florida Panhandle, however, the percentage of cell sites out of service remains significant in several areas.
Specifically, 61.5 percent of cell sites in Bay County, Florida, were still out of service Oct. 16. More than 43 percent of cell sites were down in Gulf County, and in Florida’s Washington County, 23.1 percent of cell sites were down. More than 22 percent of sites were down in both Franklin and Liberty counties in Florida, 17.8 percent were down in Taylor County, Florida, and more than 14 percent of cell sites were out in both Jackson and Calhoun counties in Florida.
An AT&T spokeswoman said AT&T announced and implemented credits for its customers before the storm hit. Beginning Oct. 10, credits have been given to customers in Bay, Calhoun, Franklin, Gulf, Liberty, Taylor and Wakulla counties with plans to extend the credits through Oct. 21.
“Overall, our networks have performed well during Hurricane Michael, and we are nearly fully restored in most affected areas,” the spokeswoman said. “With a storm like Hurricane Michael, fiber cuts and other storm damage is expected. It’s all about how you prepare and how quickly you respond. We were prepared for Hurricane Michael with dozens of pieces of equipment across the southeast ready to respond quickly and efficiently when minutes mattered most.”
An Oct. 13 AT&T statement said First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet)-dedicated satellite cells on light trucks (SatCOLTs) boosted connectivity for FirstNet subscribers in Panama City and Tallahassee, Florida, along with Seminole County and Colquitt, Georgia. These deployments are supporting national guardsmen, airmen, state patrol, trauma care, police, fire and rescue teams from as far as Oregon.
The spokeswoman said AT&T loaned hundreds of FirstNet-enabled devices to military personnel and first responders who were without service from their existing provider to help them carry out their important missions.
“From the feedback we’ve received, we believe the connectivity and value FirstNet is delivering is living up to its promise,” said Chris Sambar, senior vice president, AT&T FirstNet.
“FirstNet was there when we needed communications the most with our campus and community partners,” said Florida State University Police Chief David Perry. “During an emergency or natural disaster the ability to communicate is paramount and based on the support we’ve received from the FirstNet team at AT&T during Hurricane Michael, we know they are a partner we can trust.”
Verizon said Oct. 16 that customers in Florida’s Bay and Gulf counties will be automatically credited for three months of mobile service for each line. This free service is for both consumer and business accounts.
Verizon also said it had deployed 16 portable cells to support first responders in the Bay County Emergency Operations Center and 9-1-1 Center, Bay County Sheriff’s Office, Blakely Emergency Operations Center, City of Parker Police Department, Gulf County Emergency Operations Center, Lynn Haven Emergency Operations Center, Miller County 9-1-1, Panama City Police Department, Springfield Police Department and Washington Emergency Operations Center in Chipley, among other locations.
According to the FCC’s Oct. 16 report on the hurricane, no public-safety answering points (PSAPs) were reported as being down. Three PSAPs — reduced from six Oct. 15 — had been re-routed with automatic location information (ALI). The PSAPs included Panama City Police Department, Tyndall Airforce Fire Department and Tyndall Airforce Law, all in Florida. Gadsden County (Florida) Sheriff’s Office was re-routed without ALI.
Pai plans to visit the area Oct. 19 and will meet with service providers and government officials working to restore communications networks.
“I look forward to getting an on-the-ground assessment and continuing to work to help residents and communities bounce back from this tragic storm,” he said. “In particular, I hope to see that wireless coverage in the area near where the hurricane made landfall is being restored more quickly than was the case earlier this week.”