Maintaining a Wireless Network During Record Flooding in Colorado

Keeping people connected in an emergency.

By Bob Kelley on September 18, 2013

The rain was a welcome relief from the drought that experts called the worst since those of the 1930s Dust Bowl era. Following a Colorado summer that was hotter than most, idyllic mountain towns like Boulder, Estes Park and Lyons were showing parched lawns and dry creek beds. Indeed, the late summer rain was nice.

Until it didn’t stop.

More than a year’s average rainfall fell in just four days in September. Mountainsides stripped of vegetation by wildfires turned into massive water slides. Creek beds and winding rivers burst their banks as torrential rain, forced through narrow canyons, swept away everything in its path.

“Like a liquid freight train coming through the middle of town,” said one Boulder resident.

It’s said that fire scars the land, but water steals it away. Coloradoans got a painful reminder of both notions.

Dozens of bridges, roadways and thousands of homes were destroyed. Hundreds of residents were unaccounted for, even days after theColorado Flooding rains stopped. Mountains of debris washed downhill covering roadways, homes and everything else below. 

Despite the damage, the Verizon Wireless network across the flooded areas held up well, but pockets of trouble needed attention fast. 

“Network alerts lit up like the Fourth of July,” said Tom Sweeney, system performance director from Verizon Wireless’ Mountain Region. “We lost commercial power to two sites in Boulder. In more remote areas, floods and slides shredded miles of backhaul fiber, taking our sites in Estes Park and Lyons completely off the air for a time.”

In fact, Estes Park, Lyons and other locations became completely inaccessible when roadways and bridges washed away.

Just as emergency helicopters evacuated stranded residents, Verizon engaged helicopters to fly into those same areas. During a break in the rains late Saturday, the Mountain Region Network team led by Wanda Oppenheim, Tom Morgenthien, Tom Sweeney and Solomon Hu began flying repair crews and equipment to otherwise inaccessible cell sites in isolated communities. 

As Verizon’s Network team worked around the clock, the Verizon Crisis Response Team handled multiple requests for wireless devices from agencies including the Boulder County Sheriff’s office, the Colorado Army National Guard, the Civil Air Patrol assisting FEMA and other regional emergency response agencies, with other parts of Verizon stepping in to help meet the additional equipment requests.

Read here for more from our Verizon Wireless News Center on how service was restored to flooded communities in record time, and click here for more details on the programs and the company’s matching gift benefit for employee donations.  

Photos: Boulder County