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Call Kurtis Investigates: Customers complain of cell outages after Northern California quake

How many cell towers went offline after earthquake?
How many cell towers went offline after the earthquake? 01:21

Some victims of Tuesday's 6.4 magnitude quake in Humboldt County complained of limited or no cell service for hours after the earthquake knocked out power to tens of thousands.

Living in a region prone to earthquakes, fires and other disasters, we were curious if your cell phone will work if the power goes out. We posed these questions to the three major wireless carriers:

  • How many cell towers do you have in the Humboldt region that were knocked offline after the power outage?
  • How many customers were impacted?
  • We were also curious about what backup power options you have at each of these sites, and whether they are gas or battery-powered backup sources.
  • What measures does each provider have in place to maintain service after such a power outage?

None gave specifics on the number of towers knocked offline in the outage, or the number of customers impacted. Here is how each responded.


Due to the highly confidential and proprietary nature of some of this information, Verizon does not disclose publicly certain data about its cell towers and outages; however, we can tell you generally that Verizon designs its network with significant backup power assets throughout the state. All of our cell towers (macro cell sites) in the state have battery backup power and a majority of these towers have fixed generators that can be refueled to keep the site running. Where we do not have fixed generators, we have the ability to attach portable generators to most of the remaining macro sites. During disasters and power shutoff events, we work with vendors to refuel our generators and can do so indefinitely, as long as it is feasible, safe, and necessary. It's important to note that even in places where a cell site is out of service, because of overlapping cell site coverage, customers may not experience service outages.

As a result of these practices, our network generally fares well throughout disasters and it did so yesterday in Humboldt County. While we had a small number of macro cell sites off air for a portion of the day yesterday, service was restored to all but one site by last night due to a mix of portable generator deployment and commercial power restoration. That one site remains out of service due to third-party fiber damage, and we are coordinating closely with the fiber provider as to the status of their repair work.


Our wireless and wireline networks are operating normally in areas affected by the earthquake. We remain focused on keeping our customers, their families and first responders connected.

We have one of the industry's largest and most advanced disaster response programs to help keep communications running during these times.


We had a very small number of sites impacted and almost all remained operational due to backup battery-powered or fixed generators. Between our backup generators and redundant coverage in the area, there appears to have been minimal impact to our customers.

On your last question about maintaining coverage in commercial power outages, we've invested in hardening our network in disaster-prone areas to make it more resilient and redundant which allows us to maintain connectivity and minimize interruptions. We've also invested in other critical network sites (such as network switches and data centers) with more fixed backup generators than ever before and increased the number of portable generators available to deploy as needed.

CBS13 has also investigated how landline providers have pushed people off copper landlines to VOIP phone service with incentives for lower-cost service. Traditional copper landlines do not require power to work if the power goes out. However, VOIP requires a power source.

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