BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - When it comes to wireless service after Hurricane Michael, Bay County resident Emily Tran, said, "Well, we didn't have cell phones to communicate with so we ended up buying other cell phones from other cell companies."
Another Bay County resident, Peggy Harris, echoed that sentiment, "We didn't have communication with our cell phones."
And the Federal Communications Commission agrees.
The FCC recently released a report stating in part, "Such lack of coordination among wireless providers, utilities, and debris clearance crews unnecessarily prolonged the time customers lacked service."
"People need you and that's what you're here for and that's what we're paying for," said Harris.
Even emergency services were caught off guard.
Bay County Sheriff Tommy Ford said, "The storm was devastating to our communication infrastructure both from the standpoint of some of the cell carriers as well as our radio system, our data systems, things of that nature--and that was a really helpless feeling."
With the lack of communications during the storm, the Bay County Sheriff's Office had to rely on backups like a portable internet satellite communications device that provided internet and phone lines within the building. Satellite phones and radio systems also filled communication gaps at the Sheriff's Office.
Christine Lewis, a Bay County resident, said, "AT&T seemed to hold steady through everything. Our friends had Verizon and so we were concerned trying to contact them."
While Tran said, "Verizon was down for like months at a time."
For their part, Verizon issued us a statement saying, "From a Verizon perspective, though, we are proud of the way we responded to the situation, and proud of our longstanding track record of reliability following natural disasters -- like Hurricanes Sandy, Harvey, Irma and Florence. With each storm we go through, we learn more and more, and we evolve our game plan.
This category 5 storm, the worst to make landfall in the Panhandle in history, caused devastating damage, and held some key learnings for us. In the last several months we have been evaluating and implementing new technologies which we used heavily in this storm's recovery including satellite as backhaul for mobile equipment like SPOTs (Satellite Pico Cells on Trucks) and COWs (Cells on Wheels). We have also carefully considered how and where we install fiber, which is critical to all network operations, and are working closely with local officials to bury more fiber than we have had previously in this area.
As we said last October, we know our neighbors in the Panhandle have a long road ahead and we will be there every step of the way. Which is why we are investing $25 million into our network across the Panhandle to help the community rebuild with the most technologically advanced wireless infrastructure – including 5G."
Looking forward, Sheriff Ford said, "I think it's important for the wireless companies to work together and if there's a disaster to come together."
The FCC report suggests wireless companies enter roaming agreements and use backhaul options among other solutions to better prepare for the future.
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