FCC Irene update: What's on, what


Thanks to the storm’s quick weakening once it landed ashore, so far Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene has not knocked any radio or TV stations off air (as of 8/28) and the FCC says it’s not received any requests from broadcasters seeking an STA because of the storm. This time the Commission worked with FEMA to deploy field teams into a hurricane that use equipment to monitor what’s on and off the air. They’re dubbed “roll-call teams”, which use specially equipped SUVs, to take a spectrum snapshot of police, fire, government, radio, TV and other wireless users. They can tell what’s on the air, running on emergency battery power and who might need assistance.

The latest update (8/29): In the New York market, WMCA 570 and WNYC-AM 820 (New York Public Radio) are both off the air as of 8 AM.  They share a common (and flooded) transmitter site, a reader tells us. The WNYC Web page confirms their AM is off air.  Salem Communications’ WMCA confirms with RBR-TVBR they are also currently off-air.

FCC Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau Chief Admiral Jamie Barnett says cell carriers have “COWS”, and “COLTS,” (SUVs with portable cell sites) to roll into areas with major outages to provide temporary relief for emergency connectivity issues.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski and Barnett gave a brief press conference 8/27 to give a snapshot of Hurricane Irene’s effect on communications networks in the Atlantic coastal area. All data presented here was collected from the FCC’s Disaster Information Reporting System (DIRS).

Wireline: 12,000 are out of service, 8,000 in NC, 4,000 in VA.

Public Safety: no public safety centers are out at present, but under heavy congestion.

Switches: 3 small wireline switches are down in South Carolina, No wireless switches down.

Cell sites: 130 cell sites, mostly in coastal NC are down. 215 cell sites are on backup power, which might also go down if not reprovisioned soon.

Cable: 5,000 cable TV subscribers are out of service in North Carolina now.

Carteret has been the hardest hit county in North Carolina with half of its cell sites out of commission. Onslow and Green County were also among the hardest hit in terms of communication breakdowns in the region.

“Working in close collaboration with FEMA, the FCC has deployed four Roll Call units to survey police, fire and emergency medical communications systems as well as television and radio stations along the entire eastern coastline,” Genachowski said. “These Roll Call units will help first responders and carrier repair teams with fast information about what wireless communications are up or down in their area. As the storm progresses, these Roll Call units will analyze the areas hardest hit and immediately be able to communicate important data to FEMA about system damage in an effort to restore service as quickly as possible.”

According to the Associated Press, more than one million customers were without power in North Carolina and northern Virginia as crews began assessing the damage. Progress Energy Inc. reported about 235,000 customers without power concentrated in coastal North Carolina. Dominion Resources reported about 783,000 customers in northern North Carolina and southern Virginia without power. In New Jersey, PSE&G reported about 41,000 customers without power.