Each year, people brace themselves for the official hurricane season, which in North America spans early summer until deep into fall. Service providers also prepare -- in the short-term, by moving their communications resources and experts near the storm for recovery efforts, and in the long-term by deploying infrastructure that can best withstand nature's harshest elements.
This year, the Atlantic hurricane season -- which began on May 20 and is expected to stretch until November 30 -- hit the eastern seaboard and the Caribbean with several major storms. In August, Category 5 Hurricane Dorian wreaked havoc on the Bahamian Islands. In 2018, the US experienced 14 separate billion-dollar disasters including two tropical cyclones, eight severe storms and two winter storms, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Following the landfall of catastrophic natural disasters like Dorian, networks go down. In disaster relief, reestablishing communication systems is key, both in the immediate aftermath and in the long run. On top of the devastating casualties and deaths, many citizens are displaced from their homes, separated from their families and unable to access food, clean water and fuel. Connectivity is a vital step towards alleviating these issues, allowing first-responders to reach and rescue those in need, reunite relatives and bring donations where they are most needed. Likewise, in the weeks and months following a natural disaster, it is essential that networks function properly so those affected can get back to business as usual.
When power lines and other primary forms of communication go down in a hurricane or other natural disaster, fiber networks are key to reestablishing connectivity and communication for affected areas. Fiber has proven to hold a clear advantage over copper in keeping communications systems operating effectively.
A Tide of Misery
Flooding is one of the many horrors natural disasters like hurricanes deliver. (Image by skeeze from Pixabay)
Fiber networks, which are mostly built underground, are more durable and reliable than copper, satellite or wireless networks. Fiber has shown itself to withstand forceful winds and torrential downpours better than those other options and can even perform when damaged or wet. Additionally, if fiber networks are damaged in a natural disaster, they are more easily and quickly repaired than alternative infrastructures. For instance, when Hurricane Michael ravaged parts of Florida and Alabama in 2018, it took only days for Verizon to restore 98% of fiber optic services that were knocked out.
We learned many of the lessons regarding fiber versus copper infrastructure nearly a decade ago when Hurricane Sandy devasted large swaths of the Northeast. When Sandy made landfall in 2012, rainfall and winds destroyed much of the copper cabling across the area. Following that disaster, Verizon removed the destroyed copper infrastructure and replaced it with fiber optics. In swapping out the cabling, those sections damaged by Sandy will experience both greater bandwidth and greater resiliency against future disasters.
Fiber is not necessarily a silver bullet to keep systems operating in a natural disaster, but it is unquestionably the best available option. With the reality of climate change, we know hurricanes and natural disasters will unfortunately only worsen. Developing fiber broadband networks is increasingly important -- especially in places frequently impacted by hurricanes or other natural disasters. The durability of fiber broadband will allow communities to get connected and stay connected, allowing citizens and businesses to get back on their feet.
It would cost about $70 billion over 10 years to bring all-fiber fixed-access broadband to rural and small-town America, writes Fiber Broadband Association President and CEO Lisa Youngers in this month's exclusive BBWN column. The ROI? Priceless.
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