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Phone carriers reprise Gustav plans for Ike

/ Source: The Associated Press

With Hurricane Ike bearing down on the Texas Gulf Coast, telecommunications providers are getting a quick opportunity to reprise the preparedness plans they activated last week to cope with Hurricane Gustav.

Verizon Wireless, Sprint Nextel Corp. and AT&T Inc. said Thursday they had deployed mobile cell towers and extra generators and had personnel on hand to deal with network damage.

Verizon Wireless said it has spent $137 million enhancing its network in the Houston Gulf Coast region in the past year, including doubling its capacity at regional switching centers to handle a barrage of calls when disaster strikes.

"We are very well prepared since we were dealing with Gustav basically last week," spokeswoman Gretchen LeJeune said.

Sprint Nextel spokeswoman Kristin Wallace said the company has some of its key network and emergency response team staged in the San Antonio area to assess damage, help first responders and repair damaged cell sites.

"We just make sure we have enough generators, enough fuel ready to move in to get the network up and running, if needed. Hopefully the storm won't be that bad, but it's looking bad," she said.

Sprint said it spent $140 million in the first six months of this year to reinforce its network in the Gulf Coast states.

AT&T Inc., the main landline phone company in the region and the country's largest wireless carrier, said it was preparing for the storm by doing things like increasing its wireless network capacity to support increased call volume, testing backup batteries at cell sites and protecting its facilities against flooding.

AT&T spokesman Dan Feldstein said the company has people across Texas on standby, both on the landline and wireless sides of its business. Technicians in areas where the storm does not hit can move to areas that are damaged.

"Unfortunately, there has been a lot of practice this year and it has gone extremely well," he said.

Gustav's landfall in Louisiana on Labor Day caused power outages that cut out cellular and Internet service in parts of Louisiana, but overall its impact was much milder than that of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.