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Cell Phone Carriers Prepare for Mass Outages as Hurricane Sandy Makes Landfall

October 29th 2012

I-phone

Wireless carriers say they're taking precautionary steps to prevent and quickly respond to potential phone and Internet service outages from Hurricane Sandy.

U.S. officials have warned about the potential damage Sandy could wreak across the northeast. Even after the derecho thunderstorm this summer disabled some mobile and landline phone services in the Mid-Atlantic, the carriers say they're prepared for Sandy. Verizon has national and regional command centers tracking the storm's progress and effect on its operations, the company said in a statement. The wireless company is bringing in additional equipment, such as fiber-optic and copper cable and portable cell sites, to areas that are expected to be hit hard by the storm so cell service stays up and running.

Verizon said it's also coordinating with state and local agencies, as well as the public safety community, on its response efforts. “We live and work in the towns and cities in the storm’s path, and we are dedicated to keeping our friends, families and neighbors connected in times like these," Verizon Wireless CEO Dan Mead said in a company statement. "We prepare for situations like this year-round, and pride ourselves in our ability to be there for our customers when they count on us most.”

Comcast phoned its subscribers over the weekend to tell customers they can sign up for alerts about service outages on their mobile phones. The company said it's ready to quickly respond to any service issues the storm might cause. Comcast also warned in an email to subscribers "that those of you who are located in the impacted areas may experience a loss of one or more of your Comcast services due to the severe weather conditions." We are taking incremental measures to ensure we are best equipped to manage this storm while keeping the safety of our employees and customers a top priority," Comcast said in a statement. "This includes increasing staffing and strategically placing employees in key locations throughout the company, preparing back-up generators and other supplies and coordinating closely with power companies and local and state emergency workers.”

AT&T said in a company statement that it's equipped with an "arsenal of disaster response equipment and personnel on standby" to respond to the incoming hurricane, and it conducts drills year-round to prepare for inclement weather. It has also installed additional "back-up and permanent generators at critical cell sites and switching facilities." Sprint is moving portable generators into threatened areas and has network strike teams on standby to deal with potential service disruptions, the company said. It also closed some of its stores on Monday in anticipation for the storm, including locations in New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) could not be reached for comment on its preparation for Sandy, but has recommendations posted on its website on how Americans can communicate with one another when cellphone service is limited during a weather emergency. For instance, the FCC encourages people to limit their non-emergency phone calls and to keep calls short so mobile networks aren't congested. It also recommends that people text message rather than call one another for non-emergency conversations. Gordon Smith, the CEO of the National Association of Broadcasters, noted that local broadcasters provide Americans with critical storm information when other types of media can't.

"I salute the remarkable work of our radio and TV station colleagues now putting themselves in harm's way to keep millions of people safe and informed on the devastation of this deadly storm. As FEMA Administator Craig Fugate noted this weekend, in times of emergency there is no more reliable source of information than that coming from local broadcasters. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all of those in the path of Hurricane Sandy."

Jennifer Martinez writes for The Hill, from where this article is adapted. 


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