Smartphones can be bad weather lifelines, here’s how wireless providers have upgraded

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – The traumatic events of April 27, 2011 proved just how important wireless connections can be when severe weather strikes.

If the power goes down and utilities fail, your smartphone might be your only connection to the outside world.

That’s exactly what happened for many people five years ago; they found themselves trapped inside homes or in storm shelters, turning to texting or social media for updates.

Huntsville resident Lisa Milburn was one of them. WHNT News 19 interviewed her shortly after the crisis and she explained how, when the tornadoes struck, she ran for cover with her two sons in the bathroom. Hunkered down, she feared the worst for family in Harvest. Her smartphone was her only window into what was happening there and she checked Facebook constantly for updates.

Data pix.

She also committed herself, in the days after the storm, to sharing information with others through her mobile device. It took days for power to be fully restored in the Tennessee Valley, so people like Milburn were, in a way, performing an important community service.

Although Milburn's wireless service was relatively uninterrupted during the storm, many people did lose power. Cell towers came down in several communities. Verizon dispatched "Cells on Wheels" in Tuscaloosa, Phil Campbell and Pleasant Grove to boost coverage. Temporary towers were also implemented in Cullman, Centreville, Jasper and east of Lake Martin to replace towers that were downed or badly damaged.

WHNT News 19 wanted to know, specifically, how wireless providers have enhanced their systems in the wake of April 27, 2011.

Although AT&T did not provide any information.

Verizon Wireless however, provided the following statement, emphasizing its enhanced network speeds and capacity for calls, texts and communications, in the North Alabama region:

"Verizon continues to work on staging and testing emergency response equipment, scheduling fuel deliveries, reinforcing network assets and other logistics to buttress service and respond in the case of emergency. These efforts are underpinned by long-term investment in our networks – both in big cities and less-populated areas.

Since 2011, the company has installed many upgrades to better serve our customers in Alabama and across the country, including the launch of 4G LTE and XLTE. Launched in 2010, our 4G LTE network delivers speeds up to 10 times faster than the 3G network. XLTE, the latest technology that uses our Advanced Wireless Services spectrum to double the capacity of our 4G LTE network, launched in 2014 and is now available in more than 400 markets nationwide."


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