Remote Island Network Recovery

Living on a remote island in the Pacific Northwest may sound like a dream lifestyle, but when phone, Internet and wireless service are all down, solitude and tranquility can turn to fear and isolation.

Last week, an undersea cable connecting the 7,000 residents of San Juan Island, Wash., (and smaller neighboring islands) with the rest of the world was severed. With no phone service, 9-1-1 was unavailable. Lacking Internet connections, local businesses accepted cash only. According to Verizon Wireless Network Operations Manager David Schultz, what happened next “was the most challenging restoration effort I’ve seen, involving a few dozen people.”

The undersea cable was a mile offshore, 250 feet deep, and couldn’t be repaired for at least a full week. So, the Verizon Wireless network team went straight to work to find a faster solution. Cell technicians and engineers joined microwave specialists and crane operators in a race to restore wireless service to the island. Challenges included dependence on satellite phones and a one-hour ferry ride just to reach the island. Once crews arrived, they had to raise six-foot microwave dishes as high as 140 feet up the towers during gusty winds. In one case, they used pulleys and winches to lift a dish to the top of the Mt. Constitution tower, elevation 2,200 feet.  

Within hours of San Juan County issuing an emergency declaration Friday, Verizon Wireless became the first carrier to restore wireless service, earning the gratitude of first responders, business owners and consumers, some greeting Verizon Wireless employees with a hero’s welcome. “They felt more secure once the wireless was up and running – it’s critical in such a remote location,” Schultz said.

On neighboring Orcas Island, resident Mary Poletti said of Verizon Wireless being the only service operating, “It means your technology and engineering strategy is superior.”