HOUSTON - When a hurricane strikes, calling for help might be the difference between life and death. Many of us have cut the cords on landlines and rely strictly on cell phones. But will we be able to count on them during a hurricane?
Since Hurricane Ike hit in 2008, AT&T says they've learned more about how to respond.
“AT&T has invested over $600 million in trying to be prepared to whatever comes our way across the U.S.,” said AT&T Mobility Services Engineer, Frank Jackowski.
AT&T is prepared with a fleet of equipment ready for deployment, including hundreds of technology recover and support trailers that can be quickly deployed.
Among the company’s fleet are Cell on Wheels (COWs) and Cell on Light Trucks (COLTs), trailers, generators and more to maintain their network. It’s all part of AT&T’s Network Disaster Recovery program. The equipment is similar to the system used to extend cell capability during Super Bowl 51.
“So in the matter of a day we’ve got a COW out there on the air and they have service, said Jackowski.
AT&T sent KHOU 11 these tips for customers and businesses to prepare for a hurricane.
AT&T standard pre-storm network preparations typically include:
- Boosting the wireless network to accommodate increased call volume.
- Testing the high-capacity backup batteries located at cell sites.
- Staging extended battery life and portable generators, and maintaining existing fixed generators.
- Topping off generators with fuel at cell sites and switching facilities.
- Using natural gas in some of the permanent generators to eliminate the need to refuel.
- Staging generators in safe locations for immediate deployment once a storm has passed.
Response equipment readied in the wake of an event includes:
- Mobile cell sites and mobile command centers
- Emergency communications vehicles
- A self-sufficient base camp. This is complete with sleeping tents, bathrooms, kitchen, laundry facilities, on-site nurse and meals ready to eat (MREs).
- Hazmat equipment and supplies
- Technology and support trailers to provide infrastructure support and mobile heating ventilation and air conditioning
- Internal and external resources for initial assessment and recovery efforts.
- Keep your mobile phone battery charged. In case of a power outage, have another way to charge your phone like an extra battery, car charger or device-charging accessory. Applicable sales tax holidays are a great time to stock up on cell phone accessories.
- Keep your mobile devices dry. The biggest threat to your device during a hurricane is water. Keep it safe from the elements by storing it in a baggie or some other type of protective covering, like an Otterbox phone cover.
- Have a family communications plan. Choose someone out of the area as a central contact. Make sure all family members know who to contact if they get separated. Most importantly, practice your emergency plan in advance.
- Program all of your emergency contact numbers and e-mail addresses into your mobile phone. Numbers should include the police department, fire station and hospital, as well as your family members.
- Forward your home number to your mobile number in the event of an evacuation. Call forwarding is based out of the telephone central office. This means you will get calls from your landline phone even if your local telephone service is disrupted. If the central office is not operational, services such as voicemail and call forwarding may be useful.
- Track the storm and access weather information on your mobile device. Many homes lose power during severe weather. You can stay up to speed as a DIRECTV customer, by streaming local weather channels using the DIRECTV application on your smartphone. If you subscribe to mobile DVR, you can also stream every channel directly to your phone.
- Camera phones provide assistance. If you have a camera phone, take, store and send photos and video clips of damage to your insurance company.
- Use location-based technology. Services like AT&T Navigator and AT&T FamilyMap can help you find evacuation routes or avoid traffic from downed trees or power lines. They can also track a family member’s wireless device if you get separated.
- Limit social media activity. Keep social media activity to a minimum during and after a storm to limit network congestion and allow for emergency communications to go through.
- Set up a call-forwarding service to a backup location. Set up a single or multiple hotline number(s) for employees, their families, customers and partners so they all know about the business situation and emergency plan.
- Back up data to the Cloud. Routinely back up files to an off-site location. Tools like AT&T Enterprise Recovery Services are cost-efficient and help ensure your important data is there when you need it.
- Outline detailed plans for evacuation and shelter-in-place. Practice these plans (employee training, etc.). Establish a backup location for your business and meeting place for all employees.
- Assemble a crisis-management team. Coordinate efforts with neighboring businesses and building management. Disasters that affect your suppliers also affect your business. Outline a plan for supply chain continuity for business needs.
- Consider a back-up cellular network. Services like AT&T Remote Mobility Zone protect critical communications for businesses. If a disaster disables primary communications networks, the back-up cellular network can help you stay connected.
Keeping the lines open for emergencies
During evacuations, the storm event and its aftermath, network resources will likely be taxed. To help ensure that emergency personnel have open lines, keep these tips in mind:
· Text messaging. During an emergency situation, text messages may go through more quickly than voice calls because they require fewer network resources. All of AT&T’s wireless devices are text messaging capable. Depending on your text or data plan, additional charges may apply.
- Be prepared for high call volume. During an emergency, many people are trying to use their phones at the same time. The increased calling volume may create network congestion, leading to “fast busy” signals on your wireless phone or a slow dial tone on your landline phone. If this happens, hang up, wait several seconds and then try the call again. This allows your original call data to clear the network before you try again.
- Keep non-emergency calls to a minimum, and limit your calls to the most important ones. If there is severe weather, chances are many people will be attempting to place calls to loved ones, friends and business associates.
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