Report Outlines Communications Progress in USVI After 2017 Hurricanes
Thursday, November 08, 2018 | Comments

Witt O’Brien’s released a first-year progress report on the U.S. Virgin Islands’ (USVI) recovery from Hurricanes Irma and Maria. The report discusses the challenges of processing 9-1-1 calls after the storms, which knocked out 80 percent of cell tower sites on St. Croix and St. Thomas.

In September 2017, the two Category 5 hurricanes devastated USVI. The territory lost power and communications, roads were washed out or blocked, and more than half the homes were damaged, leaving residents unsheltered. The economy came to a near standstill. In total, damage to the territory’s housing, infrastructure and economy has been estimated at $11 billion.

The report said USVI’s old public-safety radio dispatch system compromised the ability for outbound dispatch of emergency responders. However, a new digital voice and data public-safety network is planned to be deployed in the coming year, along with First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) service for first responders.

In addition, portable radio tower trailers will be on each island to be ready to deploy after a storm to restore temporary public safety communications within hours, rather than the weeks and months it took after the 2017 hurricanes.

The Virgin Islands Next Generation Network (viNGN) is connecting underground fiber to nearly all cellular/public-safety tower sites compared with prior to the storm when only three were connected via aerial cable. Some cellular carriers will have additional towers in place, such as at Coral Bay on St. John, and they likely will include new 5G equipment that can offer greater speeds, capacity and coverage.

A new communications and dispatching system will be in service for both 9-1-1 emergency communications centers on St. Thomas and St. Croix. The new emergency operations and communications center on St. Croix will be in progress for a hardened facility that will be shared with the Virgin Islands Bureau of Information Technology.

The government of the USVI issued the report with the support of Witt O’Brien’s, its lead recovery consultant. The report is available at here.

“As this report demonstrates, we have made outstanding progress over the past year, including the courageous initial response to the disaster by our residents, local first responders, businesses and non-government organizations, and our federal partners,” said USVI Governor Kenneth Mapp. “But rebuilding will not be easy, and a complete recovery will take years as we work to completely rebuild some of the most critical aspects of our infrastructure. An incredible amount of planning and coordination continues to take place as we prepare our territory for the vast construction and rehabilitation ahead.”

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