Despite the destructive power demonstrated by Hurricane Sandy in the Northeast, public safety systems in New York City remained operable for the entire incident. While a reported 25 percent of commercial cellular networks went down and many citizens lost cellphone reception, that was not the case for public safety systems.
"Both the police and fire systems stayed up 100 percent of the time," NYPD Deputy Chief Charles Dowd told Urgent Communications. "We lost a couple of receiver sites temporarily, but those were receiver sites mixed with another receiver site, so there was no degradation in the system. We did not lose a single frequency on the police or fire side the entire time.”
Whether through the use of backup generators to keep equipment running, or through a dedicated staff that managed a high volume of work, New York managed to keep things runnning, Dowd said. "Most of our stuff is above grade," Dowd said. "Most of our stuff resides in buildings, and we tend to do the installs. Obviously, the antennas are high up, but also most of the other equipment was high up. Most of those sites that went down didn't go down because of power, because they had sufficient battery backup that we could replenish.
On the day Sandy hit, the usual volume of 28,000 to 30,000 calls grew to more than 100,000 calls. The call centers handled the incident well, Dowd said, with employees and volunteers braving the weather to reach their jobs.
"This thing came in almost exactly like a tsunami — that's how hard it hit, and that's how sudden it was," he said. "That Monday night, 911 volume was already high just because of the storm and the hurricane, in general. But when that storm and high tide hit, within 15 minutes, the volume to 911 just exploded."
Many of the emergency workers sat at the phones, some working for 24 hours straight and eating Meals Ready to Eat (MREs), Dowd said. “They deserve a lot of credit,” he said, “because it was not easy, and they got the job done."
Photo courtesy of NASA