SoCal officials hope to tackle loss of cell service during wildfires, snowstorms

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Monday, October 2, 2023
LA officials hope to tackle loss of cell service during emergencies
Los Angeles officials are working with wireless providers to try to improve communications during emergencies such as wildfires and snowstorms.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Fire season is year-round in Southern California. And one of the major issues facing residents, especially those in more remote communities, is how to get emergency information in a hurry.

Sometimes cellphone systems can be inundated and electricity cut off, making it difficult for residents to get the latest, critical information about wildfires near them.

The communications concern is stronger in these canyon and hillside communities.

"It's pretty terrible," said Adam Michaels, who lives in a neighborhood over the 405 Freeway that has seen several fires over the years. "When you get to the top of this neighborhood you don't really have any service."

He says the only service is through Wi-Fi. If he loses power, he loses all communications.

"This brings a new level of urgency to the need to have it for a number of reasons, for that or any other emergency."

A similar problem arises during severe snowstorms in the mountains, as we saw this past winter. Authorities had difficulty getting information to residents with cell service out.

The city of Los Angeles is working to address the issue, according to Police Chief Michel Moore.

"The city is currently working with a number of wireless carriers to improve the cell signals in the impact areas, the vulnerable areas, which is primarily the canyons," Moore told the City Council recently.

"So we're encouraged by that but yet also recognize that cell coverage is a challenge even in the flat areas of the city, particularly in surge times in which a crisis emerges and everyone goes to their cell phone in order to make calls and we can overwhelm even existing sites."

Officials say they are working with cell providers to expand coverage in these areas and be ready in case of a disaster.

"This is national preparedness month so we are doing all we can to educate Angelenos about how to best be prepared," said Carol Parks with the city's Emergency Management Department.