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As Hurricane Irene Pounds the East Coast, Concerns about Cellular Coverage Increase


We all know that our cellular carriers do their best to be a force for normalcy during hectic times, and while it is true that service has improved drastically since the cellular stone ages, we need to be prepared to go wireless in a whole new way in the event of major disasters.  Let’s take a look at just what kind of impact hurricane Irene and other natural phenomenon, as well as man-made disasters can have on our cellular coverage.


Service Interruptions

Although there are no telephone lines to connect your cell phone or smartphone to your carrier’s service, there are relay towers which can be severely impacted by all kinds of storm activity and outages.  Hurricane Irene and other high wind events can cause damage to the towers, and it can take hours or even days for crews to make it to various impacted sites and conduct necessary repairs to restore service.  Major carriers Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint can all be credited with readying the vehicles that serve as portable cellular towers well in advance of Irene’s march up the East Coast, but keep in mind, nothing can happen until it is safe for crews to get into damaged areas and begin to take care of any problems that might have occurred.

Normally, weather events take place above cellular infrastructure, so the only time you might experience a lapse in service or slower 3G or 4G connectivity is during events such as blizzards or torrential downpours.  In the case of Hurricane Irene and other hurricanes that hug the coastline, dumping several inches of rain in an area at once, you may very well see an extended interruption in service, even if the towers are not uprooted or damaged.  The precipitation falling from the sky can be so heavy that it prevents signals from traveling from one place to another.


Using Your Cellphone During a Hurricane or Other Event

Today, carriers are reminding their customers that the best way to communicate in the event of an emergency is via text message.  Text messages don’t take as much bandwidth as phone conversations do, and even if they are not delivered immediately, they usually do make it through.  Another important thing to remember is that you can use social media, such as facebook and twitter to check in with family and friends to let them know that you are ok.

Not only does this help prevent frustration that can happen because systems are overloaded, it can help keep bandwidth clear for emergency service providers, who often rely on cellular devices as well as their radios to communicate during major emergencies.

In addition, carriers remind their customers to be sure that your cellphone is fully charged before the storm’s arrival, and for future reference, think about carrying extra batteries for your devices in the event you are without power for a long period of time.  Cell service is almost certain to be fully operational hours or even days before power is restored, and finding a place to charge your device can be difficult in the event a scenario like that occurs.  It goes without saying that you should also be conservative with the use of your device if you’re relying on batteries alone.  Use your smartphone to check in on facebook quickly, or send out a tweet or a text letting people know you’re ok.  Ask others to pass the word, and it will take at least a little of the stress out of the entire situation.

We’re still not sure what will happen with Hurricane Irene – as I write this she is pounding North Carolina and the southern shores of Virgina.  Here’s hoping we will all come out of the situation unscathed.

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