Expert: How to ensure your tech is ready for a hurricane in Houston
Houstonians are no strangers to hurricanes. We've already seen some activity this summer, and we still have a few months to go. Although we can't prevent every negative situation when it comes to weather, AT&T has picked up a few tried and true tips that can help you stay safe prepared during this hurricane season.
Tips to plan ahead:
- Save your smartphone's battery life. In case of a power outage, extend your device's battery life by putting it in power-save mode, turning off Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, deleting apps, or putting your phone in Airplane Mode. This may prevent you from using certain features but will ultimately save battery power.
- Keep your mobile devices charged. Be sure to have another way to charge your smartphone if the power goes out. One option might be using your car's USB port or a USB car charger.
- Keep your mobile devices dry. Mobile phones can be a critical lifeline during a storm. To protect yours, store it in a water-resistant case, floating waterproof case, or plastic bag. A car charger or back-up battery pack can come in handy. If you have multiple devices to keep charged, consider a multi-port back-up battery pack.
- Back up important information and protect vital documents. Consistently back up insurance papers, medical information and the like to the Cloud or your computer. With cloud storage, you can access your data from any connected device.
- Have a family communications plan. Choose someone out of the area as a central contact in case your family is separated. Most importantly, practice your emergency plan in advance.
- Store emergency contacts in your mobile phone. Numbers should include the police department, fire station, hospital, and family members.
- Forward your home number to your mobile number in the event of an evacuation. Because call forwarding is based out of the telephone central office, you will get calls from your landline phone even if your local telephone service is down.
- Track the storm on your mobile device. If you lose power at your home during a storm, you can use your mobile device to access local weather reports.
Likewise, we take a series of steps to ensure our Houston area network is ready to withstand the storm season each year.
Preparing our network in Houston:
When we know a storm is coming, we immediately assess what is needed to prepare our network. Some of those measures include:
- Engaging Network Operations Center to monitor the network and partner with local personnel for recovery efforts.
- Maintaining backup generators at cell sites and switching facilities in case of power loss.
- Staging portable generators at strategic locations for deployment after an event.
- Working with State and Federal Emergency Operations Centers to ensure first responders have the mobile connectivity they need before, during and after an event.
Keeping first responders connected:
Communication is critical to rescue and recovery efforts. That's why we were selected by the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet Authority) – an independent agency within the federal government – to deliver FirstNet® to first responders and the extended public safety community. FirstNet is the only nationwide network built with and for America's first responders. In the Houston area, agencies using FirstNet include Law Enforcement, Fire, EMS, and Emergency Management, among others. FirstNet is used in day-to-day operations and during emergency response, including hurricane preparedness and response. In addition, organizations and agencies that could be called on to help support public safety also use FirstNet. These include healthcare, public works, essential government services, school security, utilities, energy, and transportation that operate in support of primary public safety entities and are critical to the response efforts. Together, these agencies utilize the FirstNet network for broadband connectivity for voice and data to prepare for and respond to hurricane events. FirstNet provides the connectivity they need with:
- Priority & Preemption: In emergencies and disasters, commercial networks can quickly become congested. That's why FirstNet is the only nationwide network that gives first responders always-on priority and preemption. It puts them at the front of the "communications line."
- Greater Command & Control: Public safety agencies have access to a fleet of more than 100 dedicated mobile cell sites that link to FirstNet via satellite and do not rely on commercial power availability. New this storm season, there's a giant addition to the FirstNet disaster response arsenal: FirstNet One – an approximately 55-foot aerostat, more commonly known as a blimp. And, to give first responders greater command and control of their network, the FirstNet Response Operations Program aligns with the National Incident Management System to better guide the deployment of these assets.
- Enhanced Coverage and Capacity: We've also deployed FirstNet Band 14 spectrum. Band 14 is nationwide, high-quality spectrum set aside by the U.S. government specifically for FirstNet. We refer to it as public safety's VIP lane- during an emergency, this band can be cleared and locked just for FirstNet subscribers.
Recovery and relief:
During those unfortunate times when recovery response is needed, our Natural Disaster Recovery program and FirstNet Response Operations Group have technology and equipment to help with relief efforts such as:
- Mobile cell sites and mobile command centers, like Cell on Wheels (COWs) and Cell on Light Trucks (COLTs)
- Emergency Communications Vehicles (ECVs)
- Flying Cell on Wings (Flying COWs)
- A self-sufficient base camp: complete with sleeping tents, bathrooms, kitchen, laundry facilities, an on-site nurse, and meals ready to eat (MREs)
- Hazmat equipment and supplies
- Technology and support trailers to provide infrastructure support and mobile heating ventilation and air conditioning
- Internal and external resources for initial assessment and recovery efforts
Together, let's have a smart and safe hurricane season.
Luis Silva is vice president and general manager at AT&T.