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Aug 30

FCC says 6,500 cell sites down in four states in wake of Irene

Hurricane Irene knocked out 6,500 cellular communications sites in four states from Virginia to Vermont, where 44 percent of the sites remained down Monday afternoon, the Federal Communications Commission reported.

Neil Grace, an FCC spokesman, said 35 percent of the cell sites in Connecticut, 31 percent in Rhode Island and 25 percent in Virginia were down in the wake of the storm. Wired phone lines serving 210,700 customers were out, along with cable TV service for 1 million subscribers, Grace added.

Army coordination officers continued to work with the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the Northeast, as Vermont faced the worst floods in 75 years due to rains spawned by Hurricane Irene and outages in the power grid that could take weeks to fix.

Army North, the San Antonio-based command charged with response to civil disasters, last week dispatched defense coordinating officer teams to North Carolina, Washington, New York and Massachusetts, with the teams in New York and Massachusetts still actively engaged in support to FEMA, according to Maj. Stephen Short, a command spokesman.

Each of these teams deployed with a Chevrolet Suburban Emergency Response Vehicle packed with communications gear that can operate independently from the power grid, which is still knocked out in Vermont and the Catskills region of New York State, just more than 100 miles north of New York City.

Each of these vehicles, Short said, packs its own satellite communication system that can access unclassified and secret Defense Department networks, VoIP telephones, and radio systems to communicate with state and local public safety agencies.

The coordination teams also are equipped with satellite “fly-away kits” packed in cases that include videoconferencing systems, iridium satellite phones and secure cellular phones, he said.

The teams on the ground in Albany and Boston are working with FEMA today to help coordinate use of Defense helicopters and fixed wing aircraft in the northeast, according to Short.

FCC tracks communications systems outages through its Web-based Disaster Information Reporting System, which also serves as a clearing house for critical assistance. Carriers, for example, can use the commission’s disaster website to find fuel for generators.

In addition, FCC has deployed four vans equipped with spectrum analyzers on the East Coast to check on the status of wireless systems before and after the hurricane. These vans, fielded by the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau under an initiative dubbed Project Roll Call, provide first responders and carrier repair teams with information about which wireless communications are up or down in their area, Grace said.

In the wake of a storm, Roll Call units analyze the areas hardest hit, communicating

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