Cox N.O.’s Phones Withstand Katrina

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Cox Communications Inc. estimated that one-half of its 600,000 customers around Baton Rouge and New Orleans were without Internet service early Monday morning, based on technical responses from the system in the evacuated areas in the path of Hurricane Katrina.

The good news, according to spokesman David Grabert, is that New Orleans’ circuit-switched phone system was still working, allowing residents who rode out the storm at home to still have access to E-911 service, he said, although it did appear consumers would not be able to call beyond city limits.

Cox employees heeded the evacuation call, he said, with senior managers setting up a crisis center in Baton Rouge. Workers were told not to return until notified, Grabert added.

In Baton Rouge, half of the 300,000 customers were experiencing outages to the Internet and Voice-Over-Internet-Protocol service, he added. The impact on video service was unknown.

Cox is not inexperienced in crisis situations, Grabert said, noting that its system in Pensacola, Fla.,was hit by a hurricane last season. New Orleans, situated six feet below sea level, will pose a greater recovery challenge due to extensive flooding in addition to wind damage, he noted.

According to published reports, Comcast Corp. and Adelphia Communications Corp. systems in the Miami area, Katrina’s first landfall, have experienced outage rates of 60% to 70%, many of them due to power outages. Adelphia spokeswoman Erica Stull said her company’s operations were “feeling pretty lucky” in Florida but are now braced for Katrina’s impact when it hits Ohio operations later this week.

Crisis protocol calls for power companies to receive first priority for access to communities for repairs, but operators who have launched phone services move up the priority ladder behind those power companies to enter damage zones to restore service.

Meanwhile, The Inspiration Networks and Convoy of Hope said they’ve rushed to provide relief. As the hurricane strengthened and approached land on Sunday (Aug. 28), three trucks arrived in Louisiana and Mississippi, carrying ice, water, food and other supplies, the network group said. Twenty-two additional truckloads are scheduled to arrive this week. Relief efforts were complicated by Katrina’s shifting course, but the Inspiration-Convoy of Hope response team closely monitored each change to the hurricane’s track.

For example, when hurricanes devastated Florida in 2004, Convoy and Inspiration reported being first on the scene, delivering 169 truck loads of relief supplies with more than 6 million pounds of needed supplies.

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