Experts speaking at an FCC hearing on ways to improve wireless resiliency through better coordination with the power sector during disasters agree communication between the two groups has improved over the past few years. But they say more can be done.
Liberty Mobile CEO in Puerto Rico Najo Khoury said in contrast to Hurricane Maria, which was a Category Five storm in 2017, and had a devastating wind and water impact, Hurricane Fiona was a Category One and the damage came from unprecedented rainfall. “The network did not experience significant damage from wind or rain. Nevertheless we incurred [$12 million] in increased costs due to widespread and prolonged power outages which prevented customers from using our resources,” he said.
But the mobile network demonstrated resilience. More than 70 percent of its fiber is now buried and all of its sites have backup generators, enabling network resiliency to improve by “more than 20 percent,” said Khoury.
Liberty Mobile was able to open its network to other carriers and other customers. Its fixed network experienced few outages during and after Maria. But the power grid in Puerto Rico remains susceptible to natural disasters, frequent power outages and issues that makes it unstable and in need of improvement, according to Khoury. He said there’s still not a process in place for communications providers to communicate effectively with the power sector, noting that Liberty’s largest system outage resulted from a cable cut.
The FCC recommended greater coordination between communications providers and powercos after Hurricane Michael in 2018, specifically to prevent fiber cuts after communications restoration. Scott Aaronson, Senior Vice President of Security and Preparedness for the Edison Electric Institute, said key associations have worked together since then in the “Cross Sector Resiliency Forum.” Aaronson pointed to “tangible improvements” and noted that “stakeholders and others responsible for debris removal are integral to ensuring critical communications infrastructure is prioritized.”
Next issue: Verizon’s efforts to update technologies for network restoration following disasters
By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief