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Here we are, a month into 2018 hurricane season, and we have already seen storm activity. If 2018 is anything like 2017, we should brace ourselves.
It is hard to imagine that this season could be worse than last season, which was unprecedented in the massive destruction it left behind. There were 17 named storms, 10 consecutive hurricanes and six major hurricanes. Maria and Irma both reached Category 5 status quickly, while Jose fell short but rated a still very destructive Category 4 level.
According to comments filed with the FCC earlier this year, Wireless Infrastructure Association member companies withstood the 2017 hurricane season with little lasting damage to wireless infrastructure, but not all companies were so well prepared. While a significant number of people were impacted by the loss of wireless service during and immediately following the hurricanes, network redundancies largely ensured that outages in the U.S. were isolated and service was restored quickly in affected areas.
According to the FCC’s outage data in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, during Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma, virtually all wireless service was restored to the affected disaster areas within one week. However, other nations in the Caribbean Basin experienced additional challenges in service restoration, and service disruptions persist in some of those areas.
Unfortunately, it is human nature to be overly cautious and to plan extremely well only when something bad has just happened. Usually, as time goes by, and we haven’t been struck by disaster for a while, we tend to get sloppier in our planning and eventually could get caught off-guard. The telecom industry is no different.
Telecom managers often face the dilemma of whether to invest more money to build towers that can withstand a Category 4 or 5 hurricane, or spend substantially less money and build for a more “common” tower that can withstand a Category 2 or 3 hurricane. In fact, a tower built for a Category 5 can be about 50 percent heavier (hence substantially more expensive) than a tower built to the same specifications and weight load, but for a Category 2 wind speed. Risk management is not easy and it comes at a cost: it’s either money (for sure and now) or damage (maybe and in the future).
Proper network maintenance is a little bit like going to the doctor: you want to do it when you still have time to catch a problem and solve it. Going too late, or not at all, can lead to undesirable and sometimes fatal results.
Best practices to keep as prepared as possible include:
- Yearly visual inspection of all towers and proper manufacturer-recommended inspection and maintenance every two years (including tower wash, paint scrape and refresh, bolt tightening and non-functional or damaged accessories replacement).
- Regular structural analysis evaluation and weight load check-up to ensure tower is loaded at designed parameters. If the tower is knowingly overloaded, a tower reinforcement project should take place immediately to guarantee tower structural integrity is at desired load.
- Document tower assets and maintenance records and tasks in a centralized database, easily accessible companywide and from which asset compliance can be certified (this is important for insurance records).
- Assess the value and location of all telecom assets. The price tag for uninsured losses from Hurricane Irma in the Caribbean were estimated at between $7 billion and $15 billion, and total losses in damages from both hurricanes was about $100 billion. FEMA reported that 60 percent of insurance claims for hurricanes Maria and Irma haven’t been paid for lack of asset documentation on the operator side. It is crucial that operators establish a comprehensive asset lifecycle program not only to protect their investment but to ensure quicker emergency recovery response.
PART ONE OF TWO
By Leticia Latino-van Splunteren, CEO of Neptuno USA
August 8, 2018