Cell phone outages caused by power blackout spark safety concerns

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Wednesday, October 30, 2019
Marin County hit hard by cell phone outages
It's estimated that at its peak, some 99 percent of Marin County residents were without power

SAN RAFAEL, Calif. (KGO) -- It's estimated that at its peak, some 99 percent of Marin County residents were without power. That's the highest black out rate of any county in the Bay Area.

With the outages, many cell phone towers have gone out. Towers without generators, or those with back up batteries with as little as four hours life, have shut down.

Cathy Selmi is one of those with no cell phone service. "It's tough. but I've been able to communicate with the people I need to by text," she said.

But others are not as lucky and are without even texting service.

"Concerns that we have obviously is maintaining communications with our residents in case of emergency if we need to evacuate or issue some other protective order," said Laine Hendricks of Marin County.

If necessary, authorities will go around with bullhorns announcing any evacuations.

In addition, those with texting in need of emergency services can text 911.

Those without should immediately go to the nearest emergency service office.

Marin County isn't the only county facing this. We received this tweet from an Oakland resident saying, "AT&T has abandoned us. No phones last night and house full of smoke at 1 a.m. Cell has been out since Saturday."

We reached out to AT&T for comment. It told us "overall, our network continues to perform well in areas throughout Northern California affected by the PG&E shutdown. We are aware that service for some customers may be affected and we continue to move quickly to keep our customers, FirstNet subscribers and public safety agencies connected. Our local network teams are working as quickly and as safely as conditions allow to deploy additional equipment, including generators from other states."

Verizon told us discrete areas will experience service disruption, but says it has generators and back up batteries at the majority of its cell sites. It's also providing unlimited calling, texting and data to customers in the Kincade fire zone through November 3. Sprint announced a similar program during those same dates.

T-Mobile says its working to minimize the cell outage, but says customers in Sebastopol, the Oakland Hills, Orinda, Lafayette, Marin County and along Highway 101 from Healdsburg to Eureka and along State Route 20 north of Clear Lake will feel the biggest effects.

By the way, every county in the Bay Area except San Francisco has enabled texting to 911 in an emergency, but calling is still the best way to get immediate assistance.

Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.