Wireless Carriers Prepare for Hurricane Earl Damage

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 switches."

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

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...