After Superstorm Sandy swept in, the City of Long Beach was in “complete communication darkness,” City Manager Jack Schnirman testified at a Federal Communications Committee hearing Tuesday.
Schnirman’s testimony was part of a discussion about the effect Sandy had on local and state communication infrastructure when the Oct. 29 hurricane crippled the region.
Long Beach, which was one of the hardest hit areas during the deadly storm, had no access to computers, telephone, cable or Internet, and all cell tower batteries were dead by the morning, Schnirman testified.
“All mobile communications were lost,” Schnirman said.
All cell towers in the city were down during the storm and service providers were “nowhere to be found,” according to Schnirman’s remarks.
With the city’s infrastructure shot and cellphone and Internet service virtually nonexistent, the city had to rely on a local vendor’s gas-powered copy machine to print out daily flyers to communicate with residents. Local police went around the city with bullhorns to update residents on the condition of the city and its ailing infrastructure.
The city also relied on social media to inform residents who were able to connect to the Internet.
“We faced a variety of obstacles as we executed our crisis communications plan. We found that there is significant room for improvement with regards to wireless carriers’ infrastructure and response,” Schnirman said.
Schnirman was tapped by Sen. Charles Schumer to testify in front of the FCC after the senator had requested that the agency develop a plan to ensure another communications blackout doesn’t occur again in the event of a major storm or terrorist attack.
“Field hearings will increase our understanding of the problems encountered during Superstorm Sandy and harvest the best ideas to ensure that mobile phone service doesn’t fail after future storms,” Schumer said in a statement. “Mobile communication has become an essential part of our lives, and increasing its reliability must be a top priority.”
During his testimony, Schnirman recommended that municipalities have built-in generators for communications infrastructure, all cell-phone carriers provide emergency contacts and easier access to cell towers on wheels.