The Bane of Fiber Optic Expansion

Natural Disasters are not a new phenomenon. They are, however, an unfortunate fact of life and they strike whether we are prepared for them or not. Sometimes our communities escape unscathed and sometimes our communities are devastated. Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy wreaked havoc upon millions of people and are still impacting many to this day. Tornados, flooding and landslides have also taken their toll indiscriminately. Among the myriad difficulties that these calamities cause, one of the greatest is the strain they place on our power and communication infrastructures. The aforementioned hurricanes taught our industry that while we created robust, high-speed connections to homes and businesses using fiber optics, we also created a vulnerability as well.

The cause for concern is that the equipment used on the consumer side of fiber optic connection is generally powered via commercial power. While the industry considered short-term power outages and placed small uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) at consumer locations, these power sources were only designed for outages lasting around 12 hours. When an outage lasts beyond 12 hours, the communication lines start to go down until commercial power is restored. In the case of hurricanes Sandy and Katrina, the power was out for days (longer in some areas), crippling both power and communications services.

Pioneer recognized this vulnerability early on and began changing our fiber to the home deployments to a power source supplied by Pioneer. This consists of a copper cable that runs alongside the fiber cable. Unlike fiber, which does not allow electricity to pass through the cable, copper cables can draw their power from the Phone Company. By utilizing the copper cable, we can power the consumer end fiber optic equipment. All new fiber construction includes copper cables and the vast majority of the existing fiber to the home locations have been retrofitted. While we are lucky to live in an area where our Power Companies have great infrastructure and we experience relatively few outages, Pioneer has the ability to sustain a long power outage if necessary, should a natural disaster strike.

A Natural Disaster Here?
Some of us may feel that because we live in the Northwest with our temperate climate, that we are not subject to cataclysmic natural disasters experienced in other parts of the country. While that may be true regarding hurricanes, we should point out that according to the Tornado History Project, there have been 105 tornadoes recorded in Oregon between 1950 and 2014, including a category F3 tornado. Beyond tornadoes, think of: Mount St. Helens in 1980, the Columbus Day storm in 1964, the Willamette Valley flooding of 1996 or the impending M 9.x earthquake within the Cascadia Subduction Zone.

Knowing that disasters are inevitable, planning ahead can greatly help minimize the effects of a natural event. Pioneer has developed a Disaster Recovery Plan and continues to build our infrastructure with survivability in mind. We also work with other state and federal agencies in preparation to mitigate the effects of future emergencies. We encourage our members to consider what they can do on a personal basis to be prepared. Along with storing a supply of food, water and other necessities, keeping your traditional landline could be one of the smartest things you can do to prepare yourself for when Mother Nature strikes.