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FCC Deploys Staff

Hurricane Ida Takes Down New Orleans 911

New Orleans and nearby Louisiana parishes faced 911 outages Monday after Hurricane Ida hit, local authorities reported. Ida caused “significant impacts” to AT&T's Louisiana network due to “massive power outages and storm damage,” the carrier said Monday. The FCC disaster information reporting system (DIRS) was activated Sunday for affected counties in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi. Staffers were deployed “to assess the post-landfall impact to communications networks and to assist in efforts to restore service as quickly as possible,” acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said Saturday before landfall: “We know the reality of the danger from this kind of hurricane all too well.”

Six public safety answering points are rerouting calls, 338,115 cable and wireline subscribers are out of service and 52% of cellsites are down in affected counties in Louisiana, said Monday’s DIRS report. And 16,106 cable and wireline subscribers are out of service and 14% of cellsites are down in Mississippi; 478 subscribers and 1% of sites in Alabama. No PSAPs in Alabama and Mississippi were affected. Two TV stations in the affected area are out of service, plus three FM stations and two AMs. No requests for special temporary authority during Ida were granted, and the agency OK'd an amateur radio request to allow higher data transmissions.

Orleans Parish 911 service was out approximately 2 a.m.-2 p.m. CDT Monday, said parish Communication District Executive Director Tyrell Morris in an interview. There was a 20-minute interruption Sunday around 10 p.m., he said. Four other parishes also had 911 out of order, Morris said. OPCD was working on setting up text-to-911 calls at a different number, mentioning that plan at a noon news conference on Facebook Live, but 911 service came back before it could go live, Morris said. AT&T routes 911 calls in Louisiana.

In a time when people needed us the most, it’s scary,” said Morris, though the official hadn’t heard of any serious outcomes. Louisiana emergency-number infrastructure is “antiquated” and needs an upgrade to IP-based, next-generation 911, which is designed to better prevent outages, he said. While 911 was out, the Orleans Parish recommended going to fire stations or flagging down police officers for help.

Mayor LaToya Cantrell (D) said she's in “direct communication” with AT&T Southeast States President Sonia Perez. The telco has “boots on the ground” and is standing up remote operations for cellphone charging, Cantrell said at the livestreamed news conference in which the video signal occasionally dropped. “Nothing has a quick fix.” Ida “caused service outages at many 9-1-1 centers throughout Louisiana,” Orleans Parish Communication District said earlier on Facebook.

911 problems also were reported by other Louisiana parishes on social media, including Jefferson, St. Charles and Tangipahoa. “Multiple cellular service providers are currently having difficulties routing calls to 911 through their systems,” said Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office on Facebook at 5:47 a.m. It directed residents to use the 911 center’s administrative number. About four hours later, it said 911 was back, but “the administrative lines are now down.”

Landlines Down

Landlines are down in southeastern Louisiana all the way to the “end of the boot,” a Louisiana Public Service Commission spokesperson told us. The PSC will likely do a post-storm investigation as it usually does in such events, he said.

Seven Mississippi cellsites are running on battery and 90 on generators, a Mississippi Emergency Management Agency spokesperson emailed Monday. “There are not any unmet needs at this moment from other state agencies regarding communication.” For PSAPs, “there is a redundancy communications plan and the state will provide support if needed, along with emergency medical communication services.”

The FCC didn’t comment on the specifics of its staff deployment. “We are coordinating daily with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Homeland Security, and other government partners,” Rosenworcel said. She was a proponent of FCC field hearings on the agency’s hurricane response after 2017’s Hurricane Maria (see 1909260032). The agency didn’t comment on the possibility of field hearings after Ida.

Public notices announced 24-hour emergency contact information for FCC staff and the availability of priority telecom services for emergency responders. The Wireline Bureau granted a temporary waiver of numbering rules to allow carriers and numbering administrators in Louisiana and Mississippi to port numbers geographically outside rate centers during the incident. The storm is “expected to cause substantial service disruptions and outages in telephone service in Louisiana and Mississippi and its effects are expected to continue for at least the next several days,” Sunday's order said.

The FCC created a landing webpage consolidating the agency’s Ida response.

Industry Response

Our Louisiana wireless network is operating at 60% of normal and we have significant outages in New Orleans and Baton Rouge due to power outages, flooding and storm damage,” AT&T wrote Monday morning. “We had key network facilities go offline overnight, and while some have already been restored, some facilities remain down and are inaccessible due to flooding and storm damage.” Recovery teams are working to get access to restore services and the carrier “mobilized additional disaster recovery equipment in the region to assist in the recovery and will work around the clock,” it said.

Verizon Wireless is “actively assessing the situation on the ground as it is safe,” and providing updates on its site, a spokesperson said. “While we are seeing sites out of service in the heaviest hit areas, overlapping sites are offering some coverage to residents and first responders who remain there,” said a Monday update. “Our backup generators and batteries are running to keep many of our cell sites and facilities in service in the midst of extremely widespread commercial power outages.” T-Mobile's network “is about 70% operational across Louisiana and Alabama,” and customers there “may experience intermittent impacts to voice, data and text service,” the carrier said Monday.

Now that Hurricane Ida has passed, Cox has mobilized employees and resources from across the region to begin network assessments in the significant areas of impact including both New Orleans and Baton Rouge markets,” a spokesperson said. A Comcast spokesperson said it's “working to assess damage from Hurricane Ida, particularly in our Louisiana systems,” but flooding and much debris is “blocking access to key locations.” Comcast made its Wi-Fi hot spot network free for everyone in Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee.

We have been focused on confirming the well-being of our local employees and the status of our facilities,” a Charter spokesperson emailed. “Given the massive loss of power to local residents, businesses and to our network, the number of impacted customers is changing continuously. We have begun field damage assessment to our fiber-optic network in areas where it has been deemed safe for us to do so. Some areas we will not be able to access immediately, due to flooding, impassable roads and downed power lines.”

Ida passed through Altice territory “with minimal impact to services in our Louisiana footprint,” a spokesperson said. “We are continuing to monitor the trajectory of the storm and its impact as it crosses into the Mid-Atlantic region.” Before the storm, Altice checked generators, made sure field teams “were fully staffed and on standby,” and engaged local authorities and power companies for possible coordination on restoration efforts, said the spokesperson.


Radio and TV stations were affected.

Stations in Louisiana are facing “extraordinarily tough circumstances” including flooding, facility damage and loss of electricity, emailed an NAB spokesperson. Nexstar’s WGNO New Orleans had water pour into its newsroom, tweeted reporter Anna McAllister. Tegna's WWL-TV New Orleans and likely all broadcasters in the city were depending on generator power, said WWL General Manager Tod Smith in an interview. Smith said Monday the station is largely undamaged so far and the station’s news team has been broadcasting nonstop since Saturday morning. “There’s no timetable for power restoration,” Smith said.

Gray Television’s WVUE New Orleans had its generator go down and it went off-air Sunday night, as did many stations, according to Smith and Gray. Gray Senior Vice President-Local Media Sandy Breland lives in New Orleans and updated Gray with a message Monday morning describing the situation. With power out in New Orleans, it's unlikely that viewers there have much access to an over-the-air TV broadcast, said Breland’s message, which was shared with us. “We are servicing people through mobile apps, [over the top], etc. -- and the tens of thousands of evacuees that are watching through livestream,” she said. WVUE’s transmitter is back online, Gray told us. “It will likely be a few days before employees there can assess their personal damage,” Breland wrote.

The storm and the lack of access to 911 highlights the need for multilingual emergency alerts, emailed Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council Senior Adviser David Honig. MMTC recently asked the FCC to work on multilingual alerting and a number of diversity initiatives (see 2108040064). “Ida’s impact on mass communications in NOLA is similar to what happened when Katrina took the wireless and electric grids, and most broadcast stations down,” Honig said. “Those not fluent in English had no source of life-saving information,” he said. “This is possibly the greatest moral imperative facing the agency.”