Handling California’s Wildfires


The Problems: Cable-system operators needed to keep in touch with widely dispersed, evacuated customers during recent wildfires in California. Service providers also had to assist neighborhoods in recovery efforts.

The Response: An assortment of quick actions.

  • Time Warner Cable’s L.A. South division contacted a local Rent-A-Center, which donated six big screen televisions to deliver video service at the National Orange Show Grounds in San Bernardino. A “Surf Shack” vehicle, normally used to market video, data and phone services, provided communications services to 3,000 evacuees.
  • Charter Communications culled billing records to send a targeted e-mail to ZIP codes in Lake Arrowhead. Displaced residents could log onto charter.net from anywhere and find out when service had returned and to check billing credits. When fires cut off video and Internet service from its backbone on one side of a mountain, Internet service was routed through telephone cables on the other side. Time Warner Cable in San Bernardino also provided broadcast signals via the Charter phone lines.
  • Cox Cable Orange County quickly wired the El Toro High School evacuation center. Phone numbers of destroyed homes were reserved for 18 months, for families who had to rebuild or repair homes. E-mail addresses will also be maintained. Forwarding of calls to cell phones was made free, for the displaced.
  • Cox also wired eight evacuation centers in San Diego, offering free long-distance calls to fire victims to the U.S. and Mexico.

Unexpected Result: Time Warner San Diego set up a hotline for victims, staffed with 10 customer-service reps, to provide empathetic treatment to traumatized fire victims. The company wired an evacuation center in hard-hit Rancho Bernardo, extending plant 800 feet to reach the facility. That effort produced a piece of unexpected business: the Federal Emergency Management Agency has arranged for Internet access and telephone services from the operator, according to Marc Farrar, vice president of public affairs.