News Analysis: Major wireless carriers treat Hurricane Earl as a serious threat to their infrastructures, even though significant damage to the U.S. mainland is unlikely.
Wireless carriers are marshalling their forces at a series of mostly
undisclosed locations in the mid-Atlantic as Hurricane Earl works its
way up the East Coast. They're on standby with trucks, mobile cell
towers, generators, fuel and portable switching equipment staged to go
anywhere the storm may take out service.
So far, however, it's mostly been an exercise.
Earl is coming close to the United States, but midday forecasts on
Sept. 3 indicated the steadily weakening hurricane wouldn't make
landfall until it gets to the Canadian Maritime Provinces.
While there will be some damage to locations in
the United States, primarily to the eastern end of Long Island, to Cape
Cod and to Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard, for the most part the huge
population centers of the United States have dodged the bullet with
Earl. But this doesn't mean that the efforts of the carriers were a
waste. Earl could just have easily jogged a little farther west, and
then we'd have seen a trail of destruction from Philadelphia to Boston.
With the lessons of Hurricane Katrina fresh in their minds, the
carriers needed to be ready.
Starting earlier this week, the major carriers
moved their emergency equipment into position and set their employees
up to prepare for the worst. In the words of a Verizon Wireless
spokesperson, "We're taking a belt and suspenders approach. We have
tested and topped off generators with fuel, we have lined up resources
to address storm-related damage quickly, and we are prepared to use
portable generators which are available, if needed, for cells and
But, of course, Verizon Wireless and the other
carriers are doing a lot more than that. Verizon has been installing
permanent generators at as many of its cell sites and switching centers
as it can, reducing the need for portable and mobile generating
capacity, although the company has maintained those items as well to
provide backup in case the permanent units fail.
T-Mobile, which attempts to place permanent
generators at every site, is also staging back-up capability and
manning its emergency operating centers in every major city on the East
Coast, and it has set up redundant and backup traffic management
operations at its network operations centers. The company has staged a
mass of mobile cell units, generators and mobile command centers, so
that it can provide support anywhere along the East Coast. The company
is also mobilizing a fleet of mobile microwave relay towers to provide
backhaul if terrestrial communications are disrupted.
Wayne Rash is a Senior Analyst for eWEEK Labs and runs the magazine's Washington Bureau. Prior to joining eWEEK as a Senior Writer on wireless technology, he was a Senior Contributing Editor and previously a Senior Analyst in the InfoWorld Test Center. He was also a reviewer for Federal Computer Week and Information Security Magazine. Previously, he ran the reviews and events departments at CMP's InternetWeek.
He is a retired naval officer, a former principal at American Management Systems and a long-time columnist for Byte Magazine. He is a regular contributor to Plane & Pilot Magazine and The Washington Post.