Cell Phone Service Stayed Mostly Steady During Irene, Landlines Affected

For many on the East Coast, Hurricane Irene blew through and did very little damage save for fallen branches and intermittent loss of power.

Others experienced extensive flooding and many areas remain in the dark due to storm damage. Hurricane Irene was an interesting exercise in the impact of storms on modern communications, however, because in the past, reaching out after a loss of electricity or when inundated by floodwaters was far more challenging than it is today- as demonstrated by the use of social networks throughout the event.

Luckily for people in storm ravaged areas, cell phone service stayed mostly consistent while the storm either raged or weakened, depending on the region. More than 130,000 residents in Virginia and South Carolina were affected by disruptions to landline service, but cell phone service providers reported fewer sweeping outages as damaged towers were supported by backup service.

The New York Times spoke to service spokespersons for wireless networks, who confirmed intermittent outages in affected areas, but say that the paradigm surrounding the use of landlines versus cell phones during disasters has begun to shift:

But the evolution of the landline — which first saw cordless phones (that do not work in blackouts) and Internet-based telephony (which requires a battery backup in case of blackouts) — has led to a decrease in its reliability. That hole has been filled, to some degree, by wireless voice and data networks.

Nationwide, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said no outages of 911 service were reported in any of the areas affected by Hurricane Irene, and that no centers were without service during the potential disaster. A spokesman for AT&T confirmed remaining cell phone service disruptions in some areas, and said crews are working to assess the damage and determine when damaged equipment can safely be restored.