Helplessly watching news of Hurricane Dorian's deadly impact on the Bahamas, Central Floridians evacuated or hunkered down to wait for the storm's predicted landfall near Cocoa Beach, counting on infrastructure companies from electric utilities to cable operators and telcos to act upon their disaster preparedness and recovery plans and reconnect us once the storm was over.
I've lived here for 20 years, which means I went through 2004's record-setting barrage of four hurricanes in three months. Some, like Dorian, were high on the hurricane charts, ranked as a Category 4 or 5 when they reached Florida. Others I've seen are "only" Category 1 or 2, but that's deceptive; it takes just a gust of wind in the wrong place or a slow-moving rain-maker to flood entire neighborhoods or collapse roads, bridges, homes and create sinkholes that eat up buildings over time. One, whose name I don't recall, generated feet of rain -- causing catfish to pop out of storm drains and actually swim in our driveway. Amazingly, weirdly Florida!
Thankfully, no stories at all this go-round. The area lucked out with Hurricane Dorian -- just as we did with Hurricane Matthew in October 2016 when the eye only just missed nearby Cape Canaveral. In both cases, forecasters predicted Brevard County's coastline and low-lying inland areas would bear the brunt of the hurricane.
Marinas pulled out all boats, including the largest charter boats. Cruise lines sent ships out to sea. Businesses closed their doors, with some boarding up their windows and wrapping their glass signs to prevent a flying object from destroying that investment.
No High Seas or Failing Poles
Large boats look out of place, lining up the Port Canaveral, Fla., street behind the marinas, but thankfully most poles remain standing tall with all cable and wires intact. (Photo: BBWN)
Winds whipped around our home as an unnoticed Labor Day clicked over into another workday, but most people in this area apparently suffered little or no damage. Beaches were eroded. Some store signs shattered, and several road signs blew down. Palm fronds littered streets. It was absolutely nothing like the devastation in the Bahamas or even the ruins previous hurricanes caused.
It's apparent, though, we have learned and are using technological advances to ameliorate nature's damage.
Broadband service arrives
People often compare electricity and broadband. "They're utilities," they say. "Everyone needs them. Everyone should have them."
I'm not arguing that but you either have electricity or you don't. It's on or it's off. Yes, there is "dirty electricity" that residential wiring creates via its spikes and surges. But for the most part, if you have electric power and you pay your bill, are not in the middle of a natural disaster, your appliances work. With fixed-access broadband, you can have electricity, pay your bill and have all the gear, but issues in the network, in your home, in the equipment -- any piece of it -- or elsewhere, can cause problems ranging from slow speeds to disconnects to latency.
Aid & Comfort After a Storm
After going through a hurricane and losing power, the sight of lines of utility trucks is indescribably comforting -- albeit costly for electric companies, and something broadband operators increasingly can reduce via buried lines, millions of WiFi hotspots and network diagnosis tools.
As Spectrum wrote on its site
, technicians can work on service resumption only after it's safe, and electricity is restored. Power is that first building block for normalcy to resume.
Perhaps that is one reason we welcome utility crews, especially those from out of state, so vocally and warmly. You often see cadres of utility trucks after a major storm, either parked together or zipping down a highway, it's not the same with cablecos or telcos: I didn't witness a gang of Brighthouse vans (to use the cableco in place back in 2004) fanning out to different neighborhoods after any of the four hurricanes hit.
Unlike utility companies, the Brighthouse team wasn't working with Cablevision of Long Island, NY, ready to check performance levels or ensure little to no latency or flickering. That's where the electric power company comparison falls apart.
Back in 2004, Brighthouse needed teams of shovel-laden techs. The saturated ground, wind-damaged poles and water-logged equipment created nightmarish scenarios for the provider and customers. At the time, it had limited visibility into the network via remote diagnostics that did not yet exist, so it required costly truck rolls for picky customers like me who noticed lag and latency and paid for the highest available speed.
Before and after Charter Communications' 2014 acquisition of Time Warner Cable, including Brighthouse, the smaller operator invested in its infrastructure to the point where stormy weather no longer damaged services. With its app and many WiFi hotspots, Spectrum appeared pretty confident -- and rightly so in this case -- that customers would remain connected and, if not, would get re-connected quickly. Likewise, a friend who uses AT&T satellite only needed to switch to low-definition at the height of the hurricane, then back to high-def, and retained service throughout the storm, the said.
Protection Plan Worked
Perhaps this cabinet's colorful paint job protected it from the wrath of Dorian, although the storm's positioning is probably a better reason. The paint should, however, help keep rust at bay.
Wireless providers had plenty of equipment in place, to keep mobile customers connected and ensure the sanctity of their cellular and backhaul networks. Sprint, for example, activated its incident management, network and emergency response teams, finalized incident action plans and conducted protective measures for employees, network facilities, operations centers, stores and other facilities in the storm's potential path, hurricane-dedicated website
. Like its competitors, Sprint conducted operational readiness checks for power-generated assets; for example, it staged and topped up the fuel for fixed and portable gear at its cell sites, switching centers and network Points of Presence (PoPs). It also prepared charging stations for deployments as and when they were needed.
To ensure ongoing coverage in the worst of conditions, Sprint staged several satellite assets for temporary cellular service and last-mile Internet connectivity. Thankfully, this was apparently unnecessary in Central Florida -- although as the hurricane regained strength in its trip north, this strategy could become needed.
I hope not.
— Alison Diana, Editor, Broadband World News. Follow us on Twitter or @alisoncdiana.