CSRA utilities offer free hotspots, put crews on standby for Ian

Published: Sep. 28, 2022 at 2:00 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 29, 2022 at 12:06 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - Government agencies and utilities are planning ahead to make sure the two-state region’s infrastructure is ready for Hurricane Ian.

Hurricane Ian carved a path of destruction across Florida, trapping people in flooded homes and knocking out power to 2.5 million people. Although we’re not going to feel the full effects of Ian after it comes ashore again near Charleston on Friday, there will be some impacts in the CSRA in the form of rain and wind.

Among the utilities preparing is Comcast, which has opened its network of about 108,000 public Xfinity WiFi hotspots in Georgia and South Carolina for anyone to use for free, including non-Xfinity customers.

When a hotspot is within range, select the “xfinitywifi” network on a device’s list of available networks and launch a browser. Sign-in options will appear for both Xfinity customers and non-customers.

For a map of public Xfinity WiFi hotspots, which are located both indoors and outdoors in places such as shopping districts, parks, and businesses, visit Xfinity.com/wifi.


On the roadways

Georgia Department of Transportation teams statewide have equipment loaded, and crews are on alert, including immediate-response strike teams.

To help ease potential congestion along evacuation routes, GDOT has halted all projects requiring lane closures along Interstates 16, 75 and 95 south of Atlanta, and all maintenance and utility projects.

Additionally, the I-75 South Metro Express Lanes will remain in the northbound direction until the storm has moved through the area.

Welcome centers and rest areas in south, central and coastal Georgia have begun begin 24-hour operations.

As of Thursday morning, the Sidney Lanier Bridge on U.S. 17 over the Brunswick River in south Georgia was closed due to the potential of high winds. The Houlihan Bridge was closed to maritime traffic, but remained open to vehicular traffic. The Talmadge Bridge remained open to traffic.

As the storm makes its way through Georgia, crews will begin cleanup efforts to ensure roads remain clear for emergency use. Cleanup may be paused when weather conditions pose a danger.

Power providers are ready, too

Georgia Power said it’s closely monitoring Hurricane Ian as the storm nears landfall.

The utility aims to restore power as quickly and safely as possible wherever service is disrupted

As the company continues to prepare, customers are asked to keep safety top of mind and prepare before severe weather strikes.

Also getting ready for the storm are Georgia’s electric cooperatives, which serve about half the Peach State’s population.

Large local co-op Jefferson Energy said it’s prepared to restore power as safely and efficiently as it can if there are mass power outages.

The utility’s call center will be full staffed in the event of a major restoration effort.

Jefferson Energy members can use this QR code to check outages:

Jefferson Energy outage QR code
Jefferson Energy outage QR code(Contributed)

Co-op leaders across Georgia began following the forecasts last week when Ian was just a tropical disturbance and have been adjusting arrangements with each update on the predicted path of the storm.

Local preparation includes staging equipment such as spare poles, wire and transformers in various places beyond co-ops’ headquarters to cut down on travel time after the storm. Local line crews have also been inspecting the right of way paths of power lines to take care of trees and limbs that appear to pose a danger of falling.

Extra staff will be on hand to monitor outages, dispatch repair crews and answer calls from people reporting loss of power.

Georgia co-ops have been in contact with their counterparts in neighboring states – even as far away as Texas – to arrange for crews to travel to affected utilities here.

In South Carolina, Santee Cooper team members are prepared for the anticipated effects that Hurricane Ian may have on Santee Cooper’s service territory. About 2 million South Carolinians depend on the state-owned electric and water utility as their power source, either directly or through the state’s electric cooperatives.

As of 8 a.m. Wednesday, Santee Cooper went to Operating Condition 2 alert status. This means a threat to Santee Cooper’s electric system is imminent or has occurred, but effects are limited or still uncertain.

Electric utilities offer this advice to customers:

  • Stay aware and check the weather forecast before heading outdoors.
  • Check your emergency kit, unplug major appliances and charge cellphones in case you lose power.
  • During a storm, take safe shelter inside a sturdy building away from windows and doors. Avoid contact with conductors of electricity.
  • Never touch any downed or low-hanging wire, including telephone or TV wires that touch a power line.
  • Never pull tree limbs off of power lines yourself or enter areas with debris or downed trees as downed power lines may be buried in wreckage.
  • When using portable generators without a transfer switch or interlock system, do not connect them to your home. Simply plug the needed appliances directly into the generator.
  • Never connect a generator to an outlet in your home.
  • Never run a generator indoors or in your garage and keep them at least 10 feet away from doors, windows and vents. Generators typically produce more carbon monoxide than a car.
  • Do not attempt to refuel a generator while it is running or still warm. The fuel can ignite.

Keeping the communication flowing

Communication provider AT&T says it’s ready for Hurricane Ian with an arsenal of disaster response equipment and personnel on standby.

Preparation includes:

  • Topping off fuel generators.
  • Testing high-capacity backup batteries at cell sites.
  • Protecting physical facilities against flooding.
  • Staging other emergency response and network recovery equipment in strategic locations for quick deployment following the storm.
  • Staging dedicated FirstNet deployable network assets (photos attached) for use by public safety agencies on FirstNet to request as needed.

The company has installed more generators at critical cell towers and switching facilities and moved electronics essential to network operations above expected flood levels. The company’s network disaster recovery team is on standby and prepared to deploy assets if needed.

“Customers rely on us, especially during major storms,” said Venessa Harrison, president of AT&T Georgia. “That’s why we practice readiness drills and simulations throughout the year. And we do all we can to have our networks prepared when severe weather strikes. We’ve worked for the past few days to position equipment and crews, and are ready to respond if needed. We’re also closely linked with Georgia public officials in their storm response efforts.”

If needed after a storm, AT&T will be ready with equipment like mobile cell sites and mobile command centers like Cell on Wheels and Cell on Light Trucks, Emergency Communications Vehicles, Flying Cell on Wings, a self-sufficient base camp and more.

Additional information and tips for disaster preparedness can be found at https://about.att.com/pages/disaster_recovery.

Cable and broadband provider Comcast is actively preparing for Hurricane Ian to ensure it can support customers and respond as quickly as possible to resolve any impact the storm may have on its network and services around Augusta.

Preparations include staging emergency generators and fuel trucks as well as bringing in additional technical and network restoration teams that are ready to be deployed as the storm’s path becomes clearer.

If the weather becomes severe enough, Comcast may send text alerts to customers with information about service interruptions or with tips for restoring their services.  Customers can log in to My Account to make sure their mobile phone numbers are added.

Tips from AT&T and Comcast include:

  • Plug TVs, modems, and cable boxes into a surge protector to protect them from damage in case of lightning or a sudden power outage.
  • If customers have electricity but not Xfinity services, Comcast recommends that restarting or resetting devices, including wireless gateways, modems, routers, and cable boxes.
  • In some cases, customers may have power back but not their Xfinity services because commercial power has not been restored to our network in that area.
  • Customers should always stay clear of downed power and cable lines in the interest of safety.
  • Keep cellphones dry and charged.
  • Make sure all emergency contact numbers and emails are saved on mobile phones.
  • Forward a home phone number to a mobile phone number so that customers can receive emergency calls even if they are not home.
  • During the storm, text instead of calling — text messages require fewer network resources.

Natural gas outages not expected

Natural gas providers like Atlanta Gas Light are also closely monitoring the progress of Hurricane Ian.

Losing natural gas service during severe weather and power outages is rare because pipe infrastructure is below ground. However, there are several safety precautions:

  • Leave the gas meter on to maintain proper pressure in the gas piping. Only utility personnel should turn the meter valve off, but customers are encouraged to know the location of the natural gas meter on their premises.
  • In most cases your natural gas service will operate uninterrupted throughout the storm, and most modern gas appliances have safety valves that shut off the flow of gas automatically if the pilot light goes out. However, in cases of severe lightning, customers might want to unplug natural gas appliances to avoid possible electrical damage.
  • Report any suspected natural gas leak or other natural gas emergency your utility.
  • If you smell gas, avoid using any potential sources of ignition, such as cell phones, cigarettes, matches, flashlights, electronic devices, motorized vehicles, light switches or landline phones.