Cell towers were more resilient during Hurricane Harvey in South Texas than in previous storms, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai told an audience during his keynote at the Mobile World Congress Americas today in San Francisco. The news from Florida, however was not quite as upbeat with the affected disaster area losing service from more than 27 percent of the cell towers.
“About 5 percent of cell sites were down [in South Texas], as opposed to 25 percent for Hurricane Sandy,” Pai said. “That wireless connectivity was literally a lifeline for many.”
More than 96,000 calls were made to Houston’s main 911 emergency response center, many of which were from wireless phones.
“Many of the more than 11,000 people rescued by the Coast Guard were found because of wireless calls,” Pai said. “That includes one 14-year-old girl who was saved after telling Siri, ‘Call the Coast Guard.’” Smartphones were used to access social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to summon help and keep tabs on loved ones.
Pai applauded the “heroic efforts to quickly restore communications” of the technicians working to bring Houston and South Texas back online and on the air.
“When the rain was still coming down and the water was still rising, technicians braved the elements to fix service disruptions as quickly as possible,” Pai said.
A Tale of Two Hurricanes
Compared with Harvey, Hurricane Irma affected a much wider area striking with Category 4-force winds, as it steamed up the Gulf Coast of the state. Of the more than 14,500 cell towers located in the disaster area, nearly 4,000 cell towers had lost service as of Sept. 11.
Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands saw improvement on Monday with 21.5 of affected towers out of service, compare with nearly 27 percent on Sunday.
“Now, reports so far indicate that communications services in the path of Hurricane Irma have not fared as well due to staggering winds,” Pai said. “But we’re grateful for the hard work people are doing to keep wireless networks up and running for as many people as possible.”
J. Sharpe Smith is senior editor of the AGL eDigest. He joined AGL in 2007 as contributing editor to the magazine and as editor of eDigest email newsletter. He has 27 years of experience writing about industrial communications, paging, cellular, small cells, DAS and towers. Previously, he worked for the Enterprise Wireless Alliance as editor of the Enterprise Wireless Magazine. Before that, he edited the Wireless Journal for CTIA and he began his wireless journalism career with Phillips Publishing, now Access Intelligence.