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People recharge their cell phones and computers at a police supplied generator in Rockaway Beach after Superstorm Sandy swept through on October 31, 2012 in the Queens borough of New York City. At least 50 people were reportedly killed in the U.S. by Sandy. New York City was hit especially hard with widespread power outages and significant flooding in parts of the city.
Superstorm Sandy has come and gone, however, its effects are only now being calculated and studied. Dollar estimates in terms of damage are now in the tens of billions. Transportation and utility infrastructures have been ravaged leaving many stranded and in still in the dark. These difficulties are to be expected when it comes to storms and hurricanes.
One service that was decimated by the storm which no one saw coming was cell phone carriers. All three major cell phone companies had claimed to be prepared for the storm earlier in the week by topping up fuel for backup generators. Despite whatever steps the companies took, fierce winds downed power lines and flooding destroyed underground network equipment taking out twenty percent of cell tower sites in ten states. This has left millions with no cell reception in the affected areas.
With so many people who have and are dependent on their cell phones to communicate with others, this crisis has put many in the region muted. Was this whole situation avoidable? Are the equipment and infrastructure to cell phone companies that fragile and susceptible to damage? What steps can these companies take to avoid these problems in the future?
David Cay Johnston, investigative journalist and author; winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Beat Reporting; distinguished visiting lecturer, Syracuse University College of Law and Whitman School of Management
Chris Guttman-McCabe, vice president, regulatory affairs for CTIA - The Wireless Association