Mobile carriers' Sandy recovery teams brace for another storm

Emergency crews and gear in place will help operators respond, but some portable phone-charging stations will go offline temporarily

Just as mobile operators start to get their networks back up in most areas affected by Hurricane Sandy last week, another storm is heading for the region that was hardest hit.

Carriers are preparing to keep their regular cell sites and emergency mobile rigs online in case of heavy weather and will temporarily pull some public phone-charging stations out of service as a storm approaches the Northeast U.S. from the Atlantic Ocean. The new storm, a so-called nor'easter, is expected to hit Tuesday and last through Thursday and bring high winds, snow, freezing rain and sleet. But the nor'easter is not in the same class as Sandy, which brought historic levels of damage to the New York City area, New Jersey, and other parts of the Northeast.

The service providers didn't detail any lessons from Sandy that may help them withstand the next storm but said their ongoing mobilization may help.

"The lesson that we learn when we go through any of these is, prepare, prepare and prepare," AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel said. "You just have to keep preparing and keep getting better and better each time." On Tuesday, the carrier reported that 98 percent of its cell sites in the Northeast were operational.

AT&T said it is strengthening its fuel distribution to more than 3,000 generators in use in the affected areas, shifting generators and other resources to less vulnerable locations, and continuing the network-sharing agreement with T-Mobile USA that was announced last week. Close coordination with state and local officials and power companies will also continue.

Both AT&T and Verizon Wireless said they would relocate some of the temporary charging stations they have deployed in the wake of Sandy, to protect them from the storm, and some of those would be unavailable temporarily. Verizon said on Monday that 99 percent of its cell sites in the region were running.

T-Mobile USA is sending more engineers to New York and New Jersey for additional support on the ground. Its network in the Northeast is now 97 percent available, the company said.

Sprint Nextel said its network was fully restored across the Northeast except for New York and New Jersey, where about 92 percent of its cell sites were available. Sprint will use the emergency crews and equipment it has in place to deal with any effects of the storm, spokeswoman Crystal Davis said.

"This definitely wouldn't be the first time we've had to manage two storms in the same area, back to back," Davis said. Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the Gulf Coast in 2005, also was followed by a second storm soon afterward, she said.

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