cell phone, 911, call emergency (Getty Images)
Louisiana’s state government isn’t looking to switch communication providers from AT&T despite the chaos caused when many state workers, including first responders, lost phone service in the hours after Hurricane Ida.
Multiple state lawmakers told AT&T during a legislative hearing last week that they were upset that emergency communications were down “when many of these numbers were needed most.”
“My recommendation is going to be for the Division of Administration to cancel the FirstNet contract with AT&T, and do an emergency contract in the next 48 hours,” Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, said to an AT&T spokesperson.
But it’s unlikely Louisiana will be canceling its agreement with AT&T anytime soon. The state gets AT&T service through FirstNet — a federal program designed to help first responders during emergencies — at no cost to the state.
Despite the communication outages during Ida, Gov. John Bel Edwards “continues to support” the program, said Shauna Sanford, the governor’s spokeswoman.
“There are certainly lessons to be learned from what happened in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida… and the governor anticipates improvements will be made going forward,” Sanford said.
Mike Steele, communications director for the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, said that the governor or the legislature does not have the choice to switch their emergency phone service to a different telecommunications provider if they want the federal government to continue to pay for it.
The federal government decided that AT&T would be the provider, and Louisiana can only choose to opt in or out of the program, not the program’s specific telecommunications provider, he said.
Initial talks on how to better prepare telecommunication services in the next disaster between AT&T and the state have started, Steele said, but “our immediate focus right now is housing… and getting people back on the recovery track.”
“Carriers are gonna have problems in a Category 4 hurricane. I think it’s unrealistic to think that there’s not going to be power outages,” he said.
Just 60 percent of AT&T’s network in Louisiana was working the day after Ida pummeled the state and state officials had significant trouble communicating with each other at a time when people needed to be rescued from flooded homes and businesses.
Nick Manale, a spokesperson for the Louisiana State Police, said several of their offices “temporarily lost telephone or radio communications in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, but were able to remain active completing public safety missions.”
When asked how AT&T plans on improving their services for the next disaster, Jim Greer, a spokesperson for AT&T, declined to comment, but referred to the company’s Sept. 10 statement, which said that “of the wireline customers where we know service was impaired, more than 90% have had their service restored” and “our wireless network continues to operate normally in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.”
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