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How to use cellular phones during a disaster.

Hurricane Hugo was the worst hurricane to rip the East Coast in 30 years. The San Francisco earthquake left thousands of people without power for days.

Because major catastrophes occur infrequently, businesses and community officials are often unprepared to handle them. Many officials believe that phone service will continue to function in the event of a disaster. However the after-effects of disasters quickly dispel these beliefs.

In the event of a disaster, a community's only hope is to have a comprehensive disaster recovery program in place which includes backup communications systems. Many safety departments and communities find cellular phone service adequately replaces or supplements landline phone service in times of disaster.

Along with two-way radios, cellular phone service is becoming an integral part of disaster recovery programs, especially by those safety departments using cellular on a daily basis.

The physical integrity of the cellular tower, designed to withstand high winds and vibrating earthquakes, assures it can provide uninterrupted service.

In a disaster like Hurricane Hugo, cellular towers have proved resilient in maintaining their service when other forms of communication failed. If a cellular tower becomes damaged, another nearby tower compensates for damages within the system and automatically redirects calls.

In the case of the San Francisco earthquake, only nine of the more than 100 cell sites operating in the area were deemed inoperable the morning after. When Hurricane Hugo hit Puerto Rico, only two of 19 cell sites were disabled by the storm.

Many carriers are actively working with local safety officials on expanded programs and equipment for providing emergency communications.

Lost phone service can be incredibly costly from an emergency safety standpoint, where lost time can result in injuries and possibly death. When a train carrying toxic chemicals derailed and caught fire in Miamisburg, Ohio in 1986, Cellular One's Dayton office provided 20 cellular transportable phones to police and fire safety officials.

Police and EPA officials used cellular phones to contact the chemical manufacturer in North Carolina to determine how they would react in a fire and how to protect area residents from noxious fumes.

Edward Kovar, executive director for the Miami Valley Emergency Management Authority, was responsible for activating emergency broadcast systems in Miamisburg. With two-way radio traffic overloaded, cellular provided an alternative to busy radio airwaves.

"Cellular phones were invaluable in this in this instance. I couldn't put a price on their worth," Kovar says. As a result, Miamisburg recommended similar service to other surrounding town's emergency agencies.

During the Northwest Airlines DC9 collision aftermath at Detroit Metropolitan Airport in December 1990, the airport's phone lines were congested and inaccessible to safety officials. Eight people lost their lives in the fiery explosion when the DC9 accidentally taxied onto a runaway during a dense fog and was struck by a Northwest 727 taking off.

Gary Bramer, telecomm analyst for Northwest Airlines, agrees that cellular service is key to maintaining communications during a catastrophic event.

"It is extremely important in times like this. We needed the service to contact families of the survivors, call the FAA to investigate the cause of the crash, and to maintain contact with the Northwest Airlines home office in Minnesota," recalls Bramer.

According to Sanford Moser, Cellular One's Detroit regional sales manager, 20 cellular phones were provided to Northwest Airlines officials and FAA investigators within a few hours of the crash. To prevent landline communication systems overloading in the future, Northwest officials purchased three handheld units to have a backup in the event of another disaster.

"At NWA, we believe an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," Bramer says.

Ohio safety officials worked to establish a comprehensive disaster recovery program that is efficient, convenient and beneficial to all.

Working with emergency groups throughout Ohio, northern Kentucky, southeastern Indiana and Michigan, Cellular One will make up to 107 transportable and portable phones available to safety officials under the auspices of their Disaster Recovery Program.

Each phone includes two batteries and use of complimentary cellular service during the disaster. As part of the program there is a toll free number (800/589-CEL1) to secure cellular communications in the event of a disaster.

A mix of portable and transportable cellular phones is best for disaster recovery. It always is a good idea to have spare batteries and exterior antennas on hand for longer phone life. Phones with a long battery life, easy to operate and yet lightweight, are most effective in maintaining communications services.

Once a disaster recovery program is outlined, it's helpful to test the program in a local mock disaster program. Many communities stage mock disasters through local hospitals, airports or fire departments.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Nelson Publishing
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:cover story; Cellular/2-Way Radio; cellular phones are invaluable to emergency teams when primary services fail
Publication:Communications News
Article Type:Tutorial
Date:Apr 1, 1992
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