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Telecommunications Infrastructure During Disaster Recovery

Telecommunications Infrastructure During Disaster Recovery

Disruption of telecommunications infrastructures can be the difference between life and death during disaster recovery.

One of the first and immediate impacts of any natural disaster is the collapse of communications infrastructures. Standard cell or landline telecommunications infrastructures are likely to be knocked out, causing disruption to telephone, internet access, and potentially even satellite-based emergency communication devices. When citizens are in urgent need of rescue or need urgent medical attention, communication is one of the most important factors in saving their lives.

The Impact of Hurricane Katrina

Among the devastation wrought by Katrina, is the damage that 140mph winds and flash floods caused to communications infrastructure. Fiber optic cables were destroyed, more than 1000 cell towers (over 30% of sites in the affected area) were knocked out, millions of calls were prevented from going through, and three million customer phone lines were lost. Weeks after the hurricane made landfall, there were still 350,000 people without phone service and three 911 call centers were out. Although emergency measures were put in place including the distribution of mobile handsets, these were after the fact and the delivery was limited.

Hurricanes Harvey and Irma

Providers have been able to plan better and respond faster to this year’s hurricanes than they were in 2005. This is thanks to a combination of advanced technology, lessons learned from Katrina and other emergency situations, and in the case of Harvey, a slow-moving hurricane.

Today, carriers including Verizon and AT&T, make use of mobile cell sites on light trucks. They are also experimenting with the use of drones, which can survey the extent of damage to telecommunications infrastructures but also beam data signals to otherwise inaccessible areas.

At the time of writing, Hurricane Irma is still in its final phase over Florida so it’s too early to assess the extent of the impact on telecommunications, or the effectiveness of the response. According to the Federal Communications Commission, just 4 percent of the 7,804 cell sites in Hurricane Harvey’s path were knocked out. It’s important not to downplay the impact on residents in the stricken areas: 148,565 people were affected by the cell site outage; connectivity was almost completely lost in Rockport, Texas; and some callers were unable to get through to 911. Nevertheless, it appears that communications infrastructures and networks have held up much better than in previous disasters.

Although it’s too early to say exactly how well or badly telecommunications have fared in the face of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, a combination of advanced technology and disaster preparedness before and during both preparations and the recovery, have had enormous positive improvements since 2005.

GeoTel is the leading provider of telecommunications infrastructure data, including cell tower locations, crucial to disaster relief and recovery. For over nineteen years, GeoTel’s products have been providing companies and government entities with the leverage and insight necessary to make intelligent, location-based business decisions. For more information or a demo, please contact our experts at (407) 788-8888.

Valerie Stephen