Houston area residents understand first-hand how natural disasters can disrupt communication and connectivity to the outside world.
In 2017 when Hurricane Harvey brought catastrophic flooding that resulted in more than 100 deaths and an estimated $125 billion in damage, it also caused major disruptions in emergency call centers, cellular sites and other network assets affecting Internet and phone service across the region.
The FCC reported that during the storm and its aftermath connectivity issues ranged from:
- 17 public safety answering points (911 service) experienced issues including 2 police departments down with no re-routing.
- Some 5 percent of all cell sites in the area were down with some counties experiencing 70 percent-plus loss of service.
- Almost 300,000 people lost cable and network service with 42 non-mobile switching centers out of service, and 33 switching centers on back-up power.
- 9 radio stations and 3 television stations were out of service.
How bad was it? Communications giant Comcast, citing outages due to power failures, suspended operations in the Houston area until “local emergency management agencies deem it safe to be on the roads”, according to Multichannel News.
Fiber Helps Retain, Re-Establish Communications
Kate Jacobson, writing for the Fiber Broadband Association, says that many experts believe fiber is the best option to retain or quickly re-establish communications during and after drastic weather events such as Harvey.
With telecom companies such as Comcast providing not just traditional telephone service but network connections for many, the ability of their infrastructure to withstand storms is important.
“Consumers are more vulnerable to network outages than they were in decades past,” Barry Walton of Corning Optical Communications said. “Telecommunication companies have become the life-blood of the connected world. When storms come in like this, are telecom companies prepared?”
Jacobson writes that fiber networks—especially those underground—are more durable than copper infrastructure, satellite and wireless.
“Fiber cables typically stand up very well to a weather event compared to a copper cable. Copper cables do not perform well when they are damaged and get wet,” wrote Jacobson.
Internet Kept Up and Running for Many During Harvey
Despite the outages during Harvey, a surprising number of residents and businesses never went down and maintained their Internet.
The New York Times reported that at some data centers the water was so high that fish were left flopping around on loading docks, but service was not interrupted.
“For all their seeming immateriality, the Internet and the cloud rely on a vast industrial infrastructure consisting of data centers linked through a sprawling network of fiber optics. The facilities are stacked with servers — boxlike computers that crunch the data for everything from hospitals, law enforcement agencies and banks to news websites, email and weather reports — that cannot be without electricity and cooling for even a fraction of a second,” write James Glanz in the New York Times article.
Even as power went out across the region, the fiber backbone held strong in Texas and most residents had much-needed connectivity.
“The good news is that passive fiber is usually rugged and damage-resistant. In some cases, it can even be submerged and as long as the end faces remain mated, the damage can be minimal,” Mike Jones wrote in Cabling Installation and Maintenance.
Natural Disasters Spur Move from Copper to Fiber
The lesson from natural disasters is spurring some providers to swap out their legacy copper infrastructure for fiber optical cables.
According to Extreme Tech, after Hurricane Sandy, Verizon decided to replace older copper cables with fiber.
“The good news is that Verizon is taking this opportunity to modernize these sections of its network. Where possible, it will be replacing the copper cables with fiber,” wrote Extreme Tech. “Not only will this boost the total available bandwidth, but the optical wires are less susceptible to the same kind of weather damage. With fiber, the data is transmitted optically, so arcing and resistance when in contact with water just isn’t a problem.”
PS Lightwave not only has 5,500 fiber route miles available for customers in the Houston area, but has a robust disaster recovery in plan.
Contact PS Lightwave today to find out more about how our Network Operations Center (NOC) is managed 24/7/365 and ready to keep you connected even when natural disasters strike.