In preparation for the hurricane season, Kakaako resident Wendy Awai-Dakroub bought a set of walkie-talkies good for a 2-mile radius and a solar power battery charger to power up the family’s smartphones.
The family of four, including two kids, ages 8 and 10, are admittedly attached to their smartphones as a way to communicate and stay connected as well as to stay tuned to social media updates. It is a technology they are so used to it is hard to imagine life without it, according to Awai-Dakroub, who still has an old-fashioned landline as backup.
As Hurricane Lane continues on its path toward the Hawaiian Isles, that connectivity is under threat by high winds and flooding which could knock out power, cellphone towers or Internet services, which so many rely on for information today.
The City and County of Honolulu recommends that residents download the city’s smartphone app, HNL.info, also available as a website, to stay informed on traffic and weather alerts. If subscribers lose connectivity to their cellular network, however, they will not receive text alerts or push notifications on their mobile phones. They can still get email notifications and push alerts if they have a Wi-Fi connection to the internet. When the cellphone connection and the internet connection go down, your best bet may be a radio and a landline.
Major communications providers including Spectrum, Hawaiian Telcom and Verizon assured the public that they are prepared for hurricanes in Hawaii and committed to keeping services up and running as much as possible.
Verizon has a fleet of special vehicles that can be deployed in times of need, according to Irwin Siongco, vice president of Hawaii and Alaska, and is available year-round.
The COLTs, or Cell on Light Trucks, as well as COWs, or Cell on Wheels, are mobile cell sites that can be deployed to areas in need of additional coverage or capacity. A COW, for example, was deployed to Puna on Hawaii island after a cellphone tower there was downed by lava.
“They’re here in Hawaii, depending on needs,” he said, “whether it’s coverage for an area or additional coverage to help some of our partners in the state and county as well as first responders.”
Siongco said Verizon also worked with the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Hawaii island to provide coverage at its Disaster Recovery Center.
While building the network, Verizon said cell towers in hurricane-prone areas were built to withstand Category 5 winds, he said, and constructed other facilities on elevated platforms in case of flooding. Verizon also has backup generators, and a network staff will be on 24-hour shifts today to monitor everything in real time.
Both Hawaiian Telcom and Charter Communications, which operates Spectrum, said most of their networks are underground but that they do have some that are overhead.
Ann Nishida Fry said Hawaiian Telcom has a “state-of-the-art” network operations center that monitors its network as well as weather conditions 24/7 throughout the year. The center has been monitoring Hurricane Lane closely, she said, and working with the state and county civil defense agencies.
In addition, Hawaiian Telcom has multiple data centers with backup generators in secure locations throughout the state, she said.
“Hawaiian Telcom is taking precautions to minimize impact from Hurricane Lane, and our team stands ready to respond to any service issues as soon as it is safe to do so,” said Fry. “We recently held our annual emergency preparedness exercise to ensure that our employees are ready for hurricane season.”
With a power outage, customers with Hawaiian Telcom landline service and a corded phone that does not require power should still be able to use it, she said.
Spectrum customers who have phone, cable TV and internet coverage together will not be able to use the phone if there is a power outage, according to spokesman Dennis Johnson.
Spectrum does, however, have a comprehensive plan, he said, where technicians, materials and critical supplies can be deployed quickly in response to any storm damage.
“We are also rescheduling appointments currently set for when the storm is expected to impact the area, testing systems and infrastructure as well as coordinating with emergency management and power company partners,” he said in an email.