Carr Urges Utility Crews to Reduce Fiber Cuts After Disasters

Hurricane Michael’s nearly unprecedented winds bent towers, knocked antennas out of alignment, and ripped communications lines off poles. The loss of wired connections — including the backhaul needed to connect a tower to the network — exacerbated the problem on the wireless side, according to FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr.

More than 7,000 power company contractors and crews cleared downed wires and placed pole after pole into the ground in the Florida Panhandle after Hurricane Michael devastated communications. Better coordination among utility first responders should be a priority, writes Carr in a blog post.  

Carr penned the post this week after spending 48 hours with telecom crews working to restore communications in Florida last week. “It takes countless small wins to get the job done — locating a single cut line within a mile-long run, trenching fiber by hand, splicing thousands of fibers one strand at a time, getting a single customer back online and then building on that to connect an entire block,” writes Carr. Even with significant communications outages in the wake of Hurricane Michael, many portions of the wireline network, including fiber and cable plant, showed “notable resiliency,” he states.

However in many cases, lines that had weathered the storm were cut, “sometimes multiple times,” during the recovery and restoration effort. Line cuts during storm restoration are not new — ”it’s why we often see ups and downs in the FCC’s daily outage reports following a storm,” he says.

But under “lessons learned” Carr stresses coordination among utility crews and other first responders. All the cutting, pulling, and replacing of thousands of utility poles unfortunately, resulted in a significant number of cuts to fiber and other communications lines, according to Carr. “One fiber company reported 37 cuts in the first few days following the storm. Sometimes, lines were cut clean off damaged poles when they could have been detached and put on the ground or left in place. We saw a few instances where power companies were able to remove the bottom half of a pole, but leave the top portion in place, held up by the intact communications lines,” he writes.

He also urged carriers to have “greater awareness” about resiliency roaming and planning before the next disaster, referring to the voluntary wireless cooperation agreement that’s been in place since 2016.

November 8, 2018

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