Hurricane Sandy takes toll on communications

Hurricane Sandy is responsible for disabling one in four cell phone towers in 10 states and many that remained working are running off generator power, setting up a race with utility companies to restore electrical service to the sites before they run out of fuel.

The FCC reported Oct. 30, 2012, that landline phone service weathered the effects of the superstorm better than wireless networks. Cable television service also experienced widespread disruptions.

Sandy, which struck the East Coast, slamming New Jersey, New York City and parts of at least 10 states, could be responsible from between $20 billion and $45 billion in damage and lost production.

To prepare for Sandy’s landfall, the FCC activated its Disaster Information Reporting System (DIRS), a voluntary, Web-based system that allows wireless, wireline, broadcast, cable and VoIP providers to report the status of their facilities and infrastructure during a crisis. The FCC requested that reporting begin at 10 a.m. Oct. 30 and continue each day by 10 a.m. until it deactivates DIRS.

“Overall, the condition of our communications networks is improving, but serious outages remain, particularly in New York, New Jersey, and other hard-hit areas, said FCC chairman Julius Genachowski in a statement released Oct. 31, 2012, on the agency’s website.

“We are continuing to work closely with FEMA and our other federal, state, and local partners – as well as communications companies – in response efforts. In the days and weeks ahead, we will continue to expect the unexpected as the full picture of Hurricane Sandy’s impact on communications networks develops. The crisis is not over. We’ll continue to be intensely focused on helping with the full recovery of wired and wireless communications infrastructure.”

The agency also released a set of tips Oct. 31 for the public on communicating in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. The tips, which ranged from limiting non-emergency calls to tuning into local TV and radio stations or going online to access alerts, were designed to “make consumers aware of their communications options” to communications during the crisis, the FCC said.