Carriers Respond to Maui Wildfires

The major carriers have positioned emergency gear into place, ready to restore power to cell sites impacted by the Maui wildfires as soon as it’s safe. Thousands of residents are without cell service, and restoration is complicated by the uncontrolled fires and power outages.

“When the fires get too close to cell sites, they will obviously burn equipment, antennas, and feedlines,” Glenn O’Donnell, VP of research at market research firm Forrester, told CNN. “In extreme cases, they will also weaken the towers, leading some to collapse. The smoke and flames can also attenuate signals because of the particulate density in the air.”

But when carriers are able and prepared to do restorations with mobile backup units, it could bring limited service back within hours, O’Donnell said.  

A T-Mobile spokesperson said its cell sites are “holding up well during the fires” but commercial power outages may be disrupting the service for some customers. “As soon as conditions allow, our priority is to deploy teams with portable generators that will bring temporary power back to our sites,” the spokesperson said.

An AT&T spokesperson said it’s assessing the impact to its wireless network and “will continue to coordinate closely with local utility companies on restoration progress.”

T-Mobile says on its website that its emergency management team is closely monitoring the fires and will be prepared to deploy portable satellite and microwave solutions to restore service in impacted areas as soon as it’s safe. “Travel in and around the island and impacted areas is restricted at this time, but we’re ready to respond as quickly as possible,” states the carrier.

Verizon told CNN on Thursday its portable cell trucks have already arrived in Maui and its teams are deploying them in areas of greatest need. Larger assets are currently being barged over from Honolulu to address the west side of the island, west of Maalaea, Lahaina, and Northern Kapalua.

AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon said they are waiving talk, text and data overage charges during this time.

A Hawaiian Electric spokesperson told DCD it’s deployed additional crews from Oahu to help with the restoration efforts. Local carriers HawaiianTel, Mobi, and Spectrum are working to restore mobile services.

Apple’s free Emergency SOS via satellite service helped at least one family get in contact with first responders during the Maui wildfires. The text service, which launched last year, allows iPhone users to contact dedicated dispatchers in emergency situations via satellites. 

Local radio stations are still on the air and providing lifeline information to residents and visitors, according to CNN. The FCC had not activated its Disaster Information Reporting System for this event as of our press time.

By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief

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