As Hurricane Irene marches north, New York area cellphone providers are securing rooftop equipment, readying mobile antennas and making sure workers are on hand to repair any damage. It’s a routine they’ve had ample occasion to practice down in the Gulf states and Carolinas, where hurricanes blow through regularly.
Company officials said some disruption was likely this weekend, from the weather and expected spikes in usage.
“There are certain things with acts of Mother Nature that no one can predict,” said AT&T spokeswoman Ellen Webner. “If Irene bears down on the shorelines, there might be a loss of commercial power.”
Of particular concern: the key transmission facilities in New York City and Long Island known as “switches,” where voice calls and data are routed to their destination.
“If you lose a switch, you can lose the whole network,” said Tom Ellefson, a regional vice president for T-Mobile’s Northeast region.
These facilities — like the cell towers that send calls their way — need power to function, and workers to keep things humming. So companies have stockpiled batteries, food and sandbags, and even scheduled fuel deliveries in case of longer-term outages.
Providers also warned customers to make their own preparations for the coming storm: Charge phones and stockpile extra charged batteries if possible. Keeping phone calls short and sending text messages when possible can limit user bottlenecks like those that clogged cell networks after this week’s Virginia earthquake.