Hurricane Season is Here: Are You Ready? (part 2 of 2)

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Second part of a two-part analysis of how to prepare for the upcoming hurricane season. (see part one)

In order for any telecom operator to be able to properly face emergency situations, it needs to have an in-depth company-wide (instead of department-wide) understanding of:

  • Operational and survival wind speeds that deployed towers were designed for. It is quite common that towers purchased at different times and from different vendors have different design parameters. Ideally, all towers should be able to withstand the same wind speed, which should be higher than the highest wind historically recorded in that geographical location. By knowing what they have, operators are better prepared for what they are facing.
  • Asset maintenance status and how prepared the network is to face severe weather/hurricane conditions. Properly assessing risk exposures beforehand will result in better preparedness and quicker response after the storm.
  • Any equipment and antennas located in towers that are at severe risk (due to lack of maintenance, overload or structural reasons) should ideally be removed to prevent damage and increase the chance of the tower resisting the storm.
  • Having as many COWs (Cell-on-Wheels), power generators and drones as possible available and ready to go, located in different strategic locations to cover key areas and quickly assess damage after the storm. 
  • A location identified for a safe “command center” from which to run the operations once the storm hits.
  • Determine the number of available technicians to be deployed in the emergency recovery effort. Ideally, there should be one satellite phone per crew.
  • Print out site information from a centralized asset database (if one is implemented), so that historical site info is quickly available in printed format for quick reference.
  • Develop internal communication and emergency recovery procedures once the storms hits.
  • Reach out to vendors and partners to get an inventory of “key equipment” close to threatened areas so that response after the storm hits is immediate.

 

After the Storm

Depending on the level of damage experienced after a storm, there are different strategies that can be undertaken to assess damage. Obviously the most pivotal sites of the network that are down need to be brought “live” as soon as possible. Additionally, Emergency recovery teams need to be sent out as soon as possible to assess visual damage and establish prioritized response actions to start getting the network functional:

  • Cell-on-Wheels and power generators should be placed in key sites that would enable communication throughout affected geographical area.
  • Drone fly-bys can be performed at inaccessible sites to assess damage to the area, and to the site.
  • Vendors, partners and operators need to work in conjunction to ensure as much equipment and human resources are ready to go after the storm hits to help expedite emergency recovery efforts.
  • Use of innovative technology such as the “Loon Balloon” used in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria to help AT&T and T-Mobile restore service as quickly as possible, or 3D laser technology to help reconfigure and re-set antennas to original RF design quickly after the storm.

Lessons

Although networks in the U.S. recovered quickly following hurricanes last year, the experience of other Caribbean nations can teach everyone in the wireless industry valuable lessons. About half of mobile network operators in the Caribbean were directly impacted by storms, and some Caribbean operators experienced more than 95-percent damage to infrastructure. The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season sent a clear message that preparedness cannot be taken lightly. For each example of a speedy network restoration and temporary connectivity solutions that helped the effort, there were others of total network destruction and inability to establish connectivity in a reasonable time.

It is also a fact that many insurance claims have still not been paid and that substantial resources, both technological and financial, are needed in the region to ensure mobile infrastructure and networks can withstand Category 5 hurricanes, or similarly extreme natural events.

Affected operators in several areas of the Caribbean are still working at rebuilding their networks, and should focus on doing it in a more resilient way. Once upon a time, when connectivity was lost, it was only voice that was disrupted. Now, it is about not only voice, but also about data and the multitude of applications we rely on each and every day to stay connected, and in many cases, safe.

By Leticia Latino-van Splunteren, CEO of Neptuno

August 9, 2018                                                 

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