An emergency communications rig has been set up after a cell tower collapsed on Florida Mountain on Saturday night.
Update: 4:07 p.m. with information from press conference; complete rewrite throughout.
Officials report that service should be restored within 24 hours but new towers will have to be installed to permanently fix the situation.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Two radio towers on Florida Mountain collapsed sometime between midnight and 3 a.m. Sunday morning because of high winds and heavy rain, causing disruptions in communications throughout North County.
"We are still left in shock by the events of this past week, but I just want everyone to be rest assured that this is being taken care of at a very very high level with all state agencies involved," North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright said at a press conference Sunday afternoon at City Hall.
The cell towers hold the emergency communications relays for North Adams; the collapses also affected some of the countywide emergency communications.
Fire Director Stephen Meranti said the damage has left limited-to-no cell phone service, however emergency communications have been restored through temporary means.
"Right now we have temporary communications vehicle stationed at the Western Summit [on Route 2], and we are transmitting and receiving through that unit,” Meranti said. "Contractors are at the site, and they are working to reinstall the antennas on a temporary pole until the tower can be reconstructed."
The towers are owned by North Adams Tower Co. and space is leased to local carriers. Owner Corydon Thurston was on the scene and working with crews and the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency to evaluate the situation.
An emergency operations center has been set up at North Adams Ambulance Service and the city is working with the communications and dispatch center at the Berkshire County sheriff's office to ensure contact with Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield.
With the closure of the emergency room at North Adams Regional Hospital on Friday, communication with BMC has been critical.
Although 911 services are available, the lack of cell phone service is making emergency communications more problematic. The mayor urged citizens to use alternative methods of communications if they don't have a landline.
He added citizens can post emergencies on the North Adams Police Departments Facebook page or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Both options are being actively monitored.
"In this day in age everyone depends on that cell phone, but look to your alternate methods of communication for at least the next 24 to 48 hours until we can have some real confidence that we are back up and running," said Lt. Col. Thomas Grady of the Berkshire County sheriff's office.
He'd earlier described the destruction as "a catastrophic failure, there's no nice way to spin this."
"This is Mother Nature at its best," Grady said.
Grady explained that even though temporary antennas are being installed, the restoration of the towers will be a long process. He added that the Department of Public Health must investigate the structural integrity of the towers and the ability to safely work on the site. After this determination the site will be cleaned up and new towers will constructed.
"It's not an overnight fix, and we are looking at the immediate needs, the interim needs, and then the long term needs to get everything up to where it needs to be for the city," Grady said. "The mayor and the two commissioners from police and fire have done a good job in ensuring the city and its residents that public safety has not been compromised."
Earlier Sunday, at the scene of the cell tower collapse, Meranti said radio interference had alerted first-responders to the problem.
"Last night, we had a wind gust, we were getting some interference on our radios trying to locate the problem, where the interference was coming from," said Meranti. "We came up here and found the towers over."
A temporary solution had been set up for now in van parked near the site, he said. "We're actually using that [van] as a relay point for fire, police and EMS."
Land lines are unaffected by this situation; only cell phones, Internet and radio communications are being affected. Update: WUPE 100.1 said its ability to broadcast was significantly affected but its livestream capability through its website was unaffected.
Grady said meetings will be held to brainstorm a long-term fix as a temporary solution is worked on. The initial goal is to get emergency communications back online, and private carriers after than.
The mayor said Verizon users seem to have been affected most, and that Verizon will send mobilizing equipment to help strengthen the signal. The mayor believes that there may be partial service by late tomorrow.
Michael Murphy, a spokesman for Verizon Wireless, said Verizon and other carriers, as well as local officials and emergency services, were notified of the damage on Sunday morning.
"Like the other tenants on this communications infrastructure we eagerly await Mr. Thurston's plans to repair or replace the tower," Murphy wrote in an email. "In the interim we've immediately begun efforts to deploy a temporary solution to restore service to area Verizon Wireless customers.
"Verizon Wireless' Network Team is in the process of coordinating the delivery and hookup of a temporary mobile solution."
Tune radios to WNAW 1230-AM or watch Channel 22, if you are a Time Warner Cable customer, for news and updates.
It is unclear when full services will be restored.
The mayor added that the city's emergency shelter is open at the St. Elizabeth's Parish Center and fully staffed. The North Adams Ambulance service will be on site at all times.
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