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30 October 2017
| Natalie Bannerman
As the world is left reeling from three of the most powerful storms to cross the Atlantic, we round-up some of the biggest relief campaigns taking place in the telco sector and what we can do to help
We already know their names:
Harvey, Irma and Maria - each one more destructive than the
Storm Harvey brought an unprecedented 40 inches of rain
during its four-day period over Texas. The city of Houston was
the worst hit and is home to a number of companies in the
telecoms sector, from carriers to operators, and of them
approximately 40 are colocation data centres. These include:
Verizon, Level 3, Equinix, Fibertown, Quasar, Data Foundry,
Carrier-4, CyrusOne and SoftLayer (owned by IBM) to name a
Hurricane Irma, the first of the two Category 5 storms, saw
50+ inches over Florida and north eastern Caribbean,
particularly Barbuda and the US Virgin Islands. Florida is home
to roughly 100 data centres as well as mobile network operators
AT&T and Verizon.
While Hurricane Maria, the last Cat 5 storm, saw more than
30 inches of rain hit Puerto Rico, Dominica and the north
eastern Caribbean, affecting operators like Cable &
Wireless and data centres like Smart Networks and
With hundreds of billions of dollars in damages, islands all
over the Caribbean and states across the US are still
struggling to recover but so is the telecoms sector, which we
rely so heavily on for connectivity.
While staff slept in cots and worked round the clock to
deliver these mission-critical services, they continued to
combat the mass flooding and damage caused by Harvey.
Verizon was among the first companies to release a statement
updating its customers on the condition of its facility and
services, while Lowell McAdam, Verizon chairman & CEO,
pledged $10 million in support of the community
"Verizon is committed to working alongside disaster relief
partners to help return a sense of normalcy to residents and
restore the areas impacted by the storm. Houston and South
Texas are vital to the fabric of America and we want to be on
the front lines of the rebuilding efforts."
Digital Realty in a statement said: "The
company’s Houston data centre facility continues
to maintain 100% uptime amid the historic rains and flooding
brought by Hurricane Harvey", adding that all its Houston based
employees are safe and accounted for and partly in thanks to
the robustness of its building.
Equinix it seems was well prepared in advance for the storm,
having in place "an on-site team of six personnel in the data
centre throughout the duration of the storm … with food,
water, sleeping cots and other amenities for the team", said an
Equinix spokesperson, adding that customers can and have been
able to access the building but caution is advised.
Level 3, which has three buildings in the Houston area,
reportedly had a few "isolated incidents" affecting a small
number of customers but are resolving them "as quickly as
possible" but that limited access to affected areas may cause a
delay in network repairs. They too prepared ahead of time with
teams of engineers and employees working through the storm to
monitoring the facilities and its equipment.
Data Foundry’s CTO, Edward Henigin, said that
not only was the company prepared before the storm but it was
prepared at the point of construction, boasting: "Houston 2 is
a purpose-built facility designed to withstand Category 5
hurricane wind speeds. We chose this site to construct Houston
2 due to its lower risk of flooding. We also elevated the site
an additional three feet during construction."
In response to Hurricane Irma,
which greatly affected the areas of Florida, Barbuda and the US
Virgin Islands, the New Jersey Fiber Exchange (NJFX), announced
urgent work in collaboration with major carriers to expedite
the installation of infrastructure to support a major
connectivity hub in jeopardy from power outages caused by the
Gil Santaliz, CEO of NJFX, commented on the project saying:
"The way we communicate worldwide is all through the Miami,
Puerto Rico and New York City gateways. If Miami went down, the
only way to communicate to Europe and South America is through
Puerto Rico. We are in contact right now with major carriers
that supply connectivity to large, international companies and
are looking to keep networks up and running."
Verizon also responded by offering those in the state of
Georgia (one of the main states to be hit by Irma) with its
data relief offer, which included giving pay monthly customers
talk, text and data relief, while prepaid customers received an
extra 3GB of data.
Other carriers in the region were also quick to attempt to
restore connectivity once the storm had passed. Comcast, which
owns the subsidiary Xfinity in the area, deployed hundreds of
additional crews from places like Chicago, Broward and West
Palm Beach in Miami-Dade. "We have an action plan for every
single node," said its spokeswoman.
On behalf of its telecoms brand u-Verse, AT&T said: "We
have brought in more than 100 additional technicians from
outside of Florida and will continue to bring additional
resources as needed. As power companies and other repair crews
continue their restoration efforts, we are deploying additional
power equipment where needed to maintain and restore wireline
service. We currently have more than 460 wireline facilities on
battery power and more than 235 on generator for power."
Undoubtedly, it’s the island of Barbuda that
bore the brunt of Irma’s wrath. The Prime Minister
of Antigua & Barbuda, Gaston Browne, described it as
"uninhabitable", and even Hollywood actor Robert De Niro
described it as 'literally rubble’. In response,
mobile network provider, Digicel, was quick to mobilise less
than a week after it made landfall and started restoring
communications straight away.
Télécoms Sans Frontières (TSF) were
quick on the ground, offering door-to-door personalised
telephone calls to residents affected on the island of Saint
Martin and in Saint Barthélemey. They were also quick to
set up a Wifi zone in Anse Caille, allowing citizens to use
their smartphones to access the internet, connect with social
media and to communicate with loved ones.
Once again Verizon did not hesitate to offer support to the
relief efforts taking place in Puerto Rico and US Virgin
Islands by pledging $4 million to the cause. Commenting on the
donation, Lowell McAdam, Verizon chairman & CEO, said: "We
have a strong connection to Puerto Rico and the US Virgin
Islands through our customers and employees. And while we
don’t offer direct service to the Caribbean, we
are working with federal agencies and our roaming partners to
provide additional assistance during this crisis."
TSF, the telecommunications NGO, dispatched emergency teams
with satellite phones to ensure critical communications once
Maria had passed. On the island of Dominica, TSF deployed a
team to the town of Portsmouth, where a Wifi zone was set up
via satellite internet in Portsmouth town centre at the offices
of the community radio station. In addition, TSF deployed a
number of ambulant Wifi services that using a 4x4 and satellite
internet antenna, travel from village to village providing much
needed connectivity to internet and satellite based telephone
AT&T reported that it has temporary cell sites
operational in the following locations in Puerto Rico: Rincon
Pueblo, Humacao, Rio Grande, Ponce Cursillo, Quebradillas,
Arecibo, Aguadilla, Manati, Yauco, Cayey, Mayaguez Mesa, San
German, Fajardo, Guayama and Vega Baja. These sites alone
process more than 400,000 calls and 1.5 million texts a day but
overall the company is processing more than 9 million calls and
5 million texts a day on its network in Puerto Rico.
The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently
approved a $77 million to fund repairs of communication
networks in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. The FCC said
it had voted unanimously to provide up to seven
months’ worth of support from its Universal
Service fund, in an attempt to restore "essential
communications services as quickly as possible".
"Going forward, service providers will have greater
flexibility in how they use universal service funding to
restore and rebuild their networks. And since
we’ve adopted this item so expeditiously, carriers
will be able to elect to have accelerated payments begin
flowing this month. This should be a boost for both wireless
and wireline providers who are trying to restore connectivity,"
said FCC chairman Ajit Pai.
Google owner Alphabet also recently had its application to
provide emergency mobile service to Puerto Rico via balloons
approved by the FCC. Its Project Loon, which started in 2013,
uses solar-powered, high-altitude balloons to provide internet
service in remote regions. Further to this, the Puerto Rican
governor, Ricardo Rossello, said in a Twitter post that he had
a "great initial conversation" with Tesla CEO, Elon Muck and
"teams are now talking; exploring opportunities" over sending
battery installers to region to try and bring back power which
is in addition to its $250,000 donation.
How you can get involved in the
To support them in in their mission critical work please
head over to www.tsfi.org/en/donate-on-line. Alternatively for
any organisations who’d like to become a long-term
partner of the organisation please go to:
Net Hope’s Emergency Response team is currently
on the front lines of the Caribbean and Puerto Rico. The
technology and telecoms based NGO is fundraising for the cause,
so please head over to donatenow.networkforgood.org to support
them and their work.
Emergency Telecommunications Cluster
This global network of organisations provide inter-agency
communications services in humanitarian emergencies. The ETC
were on the front lines in the latest batch of storms. Head
over to: www.etcluster.org to see how you can help.
Cable & Wireless
The company has launched the Cable & Wireless Charitable
Foundation. Please get involved with its 'Text To
Donate’ campaign, whereby Caribbean customers can
pledge a $1 donation to aid the relief effort through the
foundation by texting 'GIVE’ to 2300.