After The Storms: Leading AT&T’s Effort to Assist Hurricane Hit Areas

Back-to-back hurricanes pose challenges for the telecom industry

Just as critical situations became stabilized in hurricane-ravaged parts of Texas and Florida—Hurricane Maria hit—decimating many of the island nations that form the Caribbean.

After major natural disasters, the first responses are to ensure that people are safe, fed, and have water and shelter. Meeting these needs can often prove a logistical nightmare especially when power and communications services are down.

“Communication is required,” says Gary Ludgood, president of field operations at AT&T and someone leading the national efforts to aid areas hit by the storms.

(Gary Ludgood. Image: AT&T)

 

Making Progress in Puerto Rico

 

Ludgood says that AT&T is using its vast experience in disaster recovery to help devastated communities restore telecommunications and infrastructure. He also weighed in on how relief efforts are going in Puerto Rico—savaged two weeks ago by Hurricane Maria.

“We are making a lot of progress in Puerto Rico. We have a barge en route now with even more equipment [such as] generators. As soon as those things hit the ground, we are prepared to deploy them around the island and get them back online,” says Ludgood.

“We work far in advance to be disaster-ready, this is kind of part of what we do at AT&T; it’s part of the culture. We regularly prepare for events like this whether [the disaster] is natural or man-made,” he explains.

Before the storm in Puerto Rico, Ludgood and his teams were hunkered down in Texas and Florida restoring services there as both states recovered from Hurricane Irma.

 

(• Hurricane Irma 1 (Key West City Hall): One of two AT&T Sat COLTs deployed to Key West in the Florida Keys. This COLT deployed to Key West City Hall provides connectivity for first responders and other recovery personnel. Image: AT&T)

 

He says in all disaster recovery situations, the first priority is restoring communication services to first responders.

“In Rockport, Texas, the county command center had no service [and] needed to communicate with first responders,” he says. AT&T engineers put fiber connective in place and installed service. The team then provided service to the local airport—within 24 hours.

Unique Logistics Problems With Each Hurricane

 

Ludgood says that these back-to-back storms were different in how each affected the areas they pummeled. This means being quick to change the disaster recovery strategy in one particular storm-affected location versus another.

“If you look at these three storms, they were all very different,” Ludgood says. “Harvey was largely around flooding. In an event like that, you have to let the waters recede. You have a fairly lengthy time of drying out the facilities. Irma was largely a wind event that resulted in massive power outages unlike Puerto Rico, the infrastructure is hardened in Florida—within a week they restored services there.”

 

(In Key West, a firetruck helps transport water to cool critical AT&T equipment. Image: AT&T)

“With Maria—it’s quite a ferocious storm where there’s a massive wind event against a weakened power structure that makes it a lot more challenging. There are lots of access issues; the logistics of getting equipment to the island.”

The telecommunications executive has been with AT&T for over a decade, according to his LinkedIn bio. He says he is planning to be on the ground with AT&T’s recovery teams in Puerto Rico this week.