Almost exactly one year ago, I blogged about T-Mobile’s response to the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, which came on the heels of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma in Florida and Texas. I will never be able to express enough thanks to all the teams who showed up to each of those communities from the beginning to roll up their sleeves and rebuild for days, weeks and months beyond -- long after the cameras left.
It feels like déjà vu that we’re back, a year later, talking about another terrible storm season. In early October, Florence tore through the eastern U.S. Just two weeks ago, Michael made landfall in Florida and Alabama, wreaking havoc all the way through Georgia and the Carolinas on its path. Both had significant impacts, but Michael, the strongest hurricane to make landfall in the US in 15 years, inflicted unprecedented destruction – particularly in the Florida Panhandle, which suffered tremendous damage and is now left with a long recovery.
I want to assure you that T-Mobile will be side-by-side with the people who live and work in these communities every step of the way, just as we have been from the beginning … but I want to be really clear about our intentions. For us this is not about getting credit or needing to make good for letting customers down when they needed us most. This is about holding true to our commitment to customers, doing the right thing for them and taking care of people in their greatest time of need.
In fact, thanks to solid preparation and investments we made before Michael hit, unlike some others, our network performed well. From day one, we heard consistently from T-Mobile customers who had service throughout the entire storm. "Most of the neighborhood would come over and access our phones and call people and text people,” one customer shared. “They used our phones to file their FEMA claims. T-Mobile service was unbelievable!"
After the storm passed and we assessed damage, we saw some truly heroic efforts from many people who were on the ground very quickly with one common goal: bringing service back up for our customers who didn’t have it. As soon as it was safe to do so, our team mobilized to repair damaged cell sites. We deployed cells-on-wheels (COWs), cells-on-light-trucks (COLTs) and portable generators to provide stronger service where we saw third party fiber cuts and power outages. We owe thanks to wonderful partners like CAT5 Resources and Fastback Networks, which helped us with those generators, along with re-fueling, logistics, backhaul gear, and more. We also received amazing support from state and local government officials as we worked to deploy resources in hard-to-access areas.
We’re proud that we could recover quickly, but we didn’t stop there. To help impacted customers focus on rebuilding, we put several measures in place to offer them relief: we waived service and applicable charges through the end of October, suspended collections, waived charges for SIM cards for customers who choose to come to T-Mobile (we don’t charge customers who choose to leave), and waived device replacement fees.
With network restoration well underway, we deployed T-Mobile trucks from around the nation to deliver supplies like chargers, devices, water, blankets, baby supplies, hygiene products, etc. in the hardest hit areas. We handed out free phones with one month of T-Mobile service (more than 8,000 and counting) to first responders, healthcare providers, local authorities, and customers who were having trouble connecting otherwise. Those phones helped staff at Gulf Coast Regional Medical Center, Bay County teachers, the 14th Judicial Circuit of Florida, police departments and administrators in Mexico Beach, Panama City and Panama City Beach, and State of Florida EMS … to name a few.
Just in the past few days, generous partners like Cradlepoint have donated routers that allowed us to provide mobile internet connectivity supporting critical community services -- voting and polling stations in Bay County for upcoming elections, local libraries offering financial aid registration stations, and comfort facilities providing food and showers. We even worked with Bay County Emergency Services to send our local customers SMS updates with safety and relief services information.
And as I mentioned earlier, it’s not just about being on the ground in the near-term. We’re committed to long-term support as well. Going forward, we will make our LTE network in the Florida Panhandle even better than it was before Hurricane Michael hit. We’re starting by accelerating deployment of sites that were already being considered and now adding some new ones into the mix – 42 total. We will launch 600 MHz Extended Range LTE in Panama City this year. It travels twice as far from the tower and works four times better in buildings than mid-band spectrum. Also, our 600 MHz LTE equipment is 5G ready.
We’re also doing what we can to support broad fundraising efforts like text-to-give and an employee match program that doubles donations during disasters. Again, through our #HR4HR (Homeruns for Hurricane Relief) program this year, we will donate $10,000 for every home run hit during the World Series to veteran-led relief support organization Team Rubicon,and $2 every time anyone – T-Mobile customer or not – posts the #HR4HR hashtag to Twitter or Instagram. In the last year, we donated $4M through this effort -- and we’re going big again this year!
In the face of disaster, you truly see the genuine goodness of people. I want to again express thanks to our incredible employees, partners, and volunteers who have worked so hard and selflessly to come together as a team and help communities when they’re needed most. We’re humbled when we hear from customers who are so appreciative of those efforts. "In a really really scary, really devastating time, being able to let people know we're okay was very very critical and important,” said one. “We thank T-Mobile so very much. We're T-Mobile for life."
Even though our network is up and running, T-Mobile isn’t going anywhere. We’ll be here in the Florida Panhandle helping those communities rebuild … stronger, better.