OHIO VALLEY — As electricity is slowly being restored to the area this week, so too is the ability of wireless users to access the cellular network — a service that many area residents may have become too dependent upon in recent years.
Middleport Mayor Michael Gerlach reported on Monday that, despite the availability of shelter in the auditorium at the Middleport Village Hall, many of those who visited the hall over the weekend were not in need of any shelter or food, but had a need for another service — the electricity needed to charge their cell phone batteries.
“It seemed everyone who came in just wanted to plug in their cell phones,” Gerlach said.
The same could be said in Gallia County on Friday evening as individuals could be seen at Holzer Medical Center — a facility that has gratefully maintained power throughout the emergency — huddled around outlets, charging the batteries that power their electronic devices.
Lorie Neal, IOM, Executive Director of the Gallia County Chamber of Commerce, had similar difficulty with communication this weekend as she and other chamber officials and volunteers feverishly prepared for the River Recreational Festival in spite of the power outage. The festival began, as planned, on Tuesday evening in the Gallipolis City Park.
Wireless network usage was very limited and sometimes completely unavailable to cell phone customers throughout the weekend and into Monday, a fact that left Neal in a bind as she attempted to contact River Rec concessionaires in need of generators.
“In most cases, if you are relying on your cell phone and you have a landline, you just basically had to go old school and use a phone that wasn’t cordless, and those are hard to find,” Neal said.
Thankfully, electricity has been restored to the city park and so has the ability to utilize mobile devices in the area, albeit in a still somewhat limited capacity.
As cell phones are now used as mini-computers that allow customers to access email, the Internet and communicate with friends and business associates via social networking, along with a myriad of other uses, Neal commented that these services are missed when they are no longer available.
“Once you get addicted to using cell phones like that, not just as a phone — being a phone has almost become secondary — you don’t really realize how important it is, how much you use it, and what you’re missing until it’s not accessible. You just feel completely lost,” Neal said.
Of course, the cell phone failures can be directly attributed to the large-scale power outage that left a large portion of the cell phone towers in the area without electricity to power them.
According to Holly Hollingsworth, a senior public relations consultant for AT&T in Columbus, generators have reportedly been brought in to provide power to these remote sites where needed, while AT&T technicians are working to repair storm-damaged facilities.
Similarly, Gayle Kansagor, a spokesperson for AT&T, stated that the massive power outages in West Virginia, Ohio and surrounding states in the Midwest region, have directly affected the ability of cell phone towers to transmit signal to the thousands of users throughout the area.
“Due to damaging storms that have knocked out power across the Midwest and Northeast regions of the country, some AT&T customers in impacted areas in West Virginia and Ohio may be experiencing issues with wireless service,” Kansagor said. “We apologize for any inconvenience to our customers and will continue to closely monitor and help coordinate the recovery efforts through our Global Network Operations Center.”