Wireless carriers ready to ride out ’12 hurricane season
Although this year’s hurricane season is just getting underway, several of the island’s wireless carriers have disclosed their network preparedness and recovery plans, confirming their ability to be ride any storm that heads Puerto Rico’s way.
Furthermore, the companies have laid out a list of tips to help consumers make the best use of the system during and after Mother Nature does its thing.
Earlier this month, AT&T announced it had become the first private sector company across the U.S. mainland and Puerto Rico to be certified under Department of Homeland Security Standards for Disaster Preparedness program.
The so-called “PS-Prep” certification reflects AT&T’s commitment to keeping its networks up and running in the face of a natural or man-made disaster so consumers, businesses and emergency responders can communicate during and after these events.
“For AT&T, it’s all about providing a reliable, advanced network with fast disaster recovery so we can help people stay connected during the worst times,” said Ray Flores, vice president of external affairs for AT&T Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
“We’re proud to be the first company in the nation to secure Homeland Security certification for disaster preparedness. We are constantly pumping new innovation and technology into our networks, to the tune of $95 billion over the last five years,” he said.
AT&T has invested more than $600 million in its network disaster Rrcovery function to help ensure the flow of wireless and wireline communications during emergencies.
The ability to quickly respond in the wake of a disaster is critical to maximizing network reliability. A wireless carrier achieves that by establishing redundancy in hurricane-prone areas by installing more back-up and permanent generators at critical cell sites and locating critical equipment in less vulnerable areas.
This year’s hurricane season is expected to be mild. Nevertheless, the Center for Oceanic and Atmospheric Prediction Studies predicted there could be between 10 and 16 named storms and between five and nine hurricanes.
That said, T-Mobile USA is also implementing its own strategy of frequent engineering drills coupled with network fortification and crisis management coordination, focusing on areas where hurricanes have the greatest propensity of making landfall, including the entire eastern seaboard and Gulf Coast areas of the United States mainland and Puerto Rico.
“T-Mobile has a long history of moving swiftly in emergency situations to ensure our customers can stay connected when they need it most,” said Bentley Alexander, vice president, south region engineering, T-Mobile USA. “We have made significant investments in supplemental cell site backup generators, microwave technology equipment and cell-on-wheels, along with other tools and equipment to enhance the stability and, when necessary, the recovery of our network operations.”
“At the same time, our engineers and our cross-functional crisis management teams — our people — play the most critical role for network and service continuity and recovery. We continue to focus on emergency response procedures and drills that will ensure we are ready for the 2012 Hurricane season,” he said.
Aside from ensuring that its network is ready to manage network traffic during any major weather-related event, T-Mobile also takes additional steps to deal with related issues, such as widespread power outages; T-Mobile has access to additional fuel to supply generators and company repair and transport vehicles, and for other emergency circumstances.
Attempts to obtain hurricane strategies in place by other local carriers were unsuccessful.
Just as the carriers prepare their networks and staff, they encourage residents and small businesses to also get ready for this year’s hurricane season.
First, consumers are advised to keep their wireless phone batteries charged at all times, and have an alternative plan to recharge their battery in case of a power outage, such as using a car charger to power up a device or having extra mobile phone batteries on hand. Keep the wireless phone dry by storing it in a baggie or some other type of protective covering.
Keep voice calls short in duration and whenever possible use text messaging to communicate instead of voice calls. Have a family communication plan in place and program all emergency contact numbers and e-mail addresses into the mobile phone. Finally, forward the home number to the wireless number in the event of an evacuation.
Given that most wireless customers own smartphone devices, the carriers also suggest using applications to track the storm and access weather information via the handset. If the storm should leave a path of destruction in its weak, camera phones can be used to take, store and send photos — even video clips — of damaged property to the insurance company from your device.
Recommendations for small businesses are similar, in terms of forwarding calls and protecting equipment. Companies should set up a call-forwarding service to a predetermined backup location. Set up a single or multiple hotline number(s) for employees, employees’ families, customers and partners, as appropriate, to call so that all parties know about the business situation and emergency plan.
Businesses should protect hardware/software/data records/employee records, and routinely back up those files to an off-site location. Use a generator for supplying backup power to vital computer hardware and other mission-critical equipment. Prearrange the replacement of damaged hardware with vendors to ensure quick business recovery.
Having a crisis management team in place and coordinating efforts with neighboring businesses and building management are also wise go-to strategies to handle storm-related problems.