Even Buried Fiber No Match for CA Wildfires

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During the infernos that blazed through Northern California in October, large areas of the region lost cell phone coverage and internet connectivity in the first few hours of the disaster, as Verizon and Comcast networks took a big hit. As the fires continued to rage on, as many as 77 towers were taken off the grid, despite swift reaction times from the providers, reported The Healdsburg Tribune. Even though Comcast and Verizon services were back up and running by October 10 and 11, respectively, there were still safety challenges for residents and emergency workers due to loss of connectivity.

During the fires, some emergency personnel used landlines to communicate since Verizon cell coverage was lacking. The Town of Windsor, for example, has 1,600 Verizon devices, including cell phones, tablets, and computers, according to County spokesman Scott Alonso.

“When the network went down we lost all our map data,” said Fire Prevention Officer Cyndi Foreman. “And visual landmarks weren’t any help, either.”

Comcast customers also struggled with the loss of internet and television service as it was difficult to track the progression of the fires without access to real-time information. 

One major cause of the network destruction involved fiber. The owner of local utility company Sonic’s, Dane Jasper, told the The Healdsburg Tribune, “The fiber line that ran above ground to the business area was burned and damaged. Even in spots where the line was buried, the fire scorched the fiber through the vaults that provide ground-level access.

“For residential customers, this disaster highlighted the importance of having a wired home phone service and telephone,” Jasper added. She recommends that businesses (especially) devise a redundancy plan for internet access. Additionally, Alonso said that county staff is already looking at an after-action report on the disaster, with intentions to diversify its communications infrastructure.

November 6, 2017

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