Carriers Mobilize Response to California Wildfires

Carriers are doing what they can to help California residents affected by the wildfires. Flames cut a fiber-optic cable that passes data and voice calls to and from several Napa-area cell towers, Sprint confirmed to the Napa Valley Register. The ability of Sprint, Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T crews to repair tower damage is affected by extensive power failures and roadblocks cutting off evacuated areas. They’re bringing mobile cell towers into the area and hoped to begin setting those up yesterday.

As of Tuesday, nearly 80 cell towers were damaged or destroyed by the California wildfires, reported the Washington Post. The National Guard planned to bring in communications equipment to bolster the network, which state emergency officials consider a priority. 

Verizon engineers are attempting to restore interrupted cell service in Napa, Sonoma, Lake and Mendocino counties, according to  “Some customers might be experiencing service issues due to damaged fiber resulting from the fires,” said Suehyun “Johan” Chung, Sprint’s Regional President for Northern California. “Our team is in the area and on standby awaiting clearance to restore service as quickly and safely as possible.”

AT&T’s Network Disaster Recovery team is deploying Cells on Light Trucks (COLTs) and equipment to areas impacted by the California wildfires. The carrier deployed Sat COLTs to Santa Rosa, Willits, and the Napa Town & County Fairgrounds in Napa. These assets are used to provide network support for wildfire incident command responders. The Satellite COLTs are mobile cell sites that link to the AT&T network by satellite and don’t rely on commercial power availability.  

The damaged cell towers are causing potentially dangerous communication disruptions, according to the Los Angeles Times. Napa County residents reported problems receiving alerts about the fires. “We are well aware that there are challenges,” said Napa County Public Information Officer Kristi Jourdan. “It’s been a challenge to get information to folks at times using Nixle. I know some folks have had problems receiving text messages.”

Nixle is a nationwide alert system used by public safety agencies and schools. Napa resident Brenda Burke, 55, said a Nixle alert about the Atlas Peak fire came in about 30 minutes after its postmarked 11 p.m. time on Sunday night.

October 12, 2017   


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