CISA/DHS Letters Allow Tower Crews to Travel in Lock-down States

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After Michigan went from zero to 1,000 cases of Covid-19 in 13 days, its governor, Gretchen Whitmer, signed an executive order, effective March 24, that restricts individuals to their homes, except under highly limited circumstances. Michigan joined 16 states that also are trying to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus with stay-at-home or shelter-in-place orders, including California, New York, Illinois, Massachusetts, Hawaii, West Virginia, Indiana, Delaware, Louisiana, Ohio, Connecticut, Oregon and New Jersey, plus Kansas City and St. Louis, Missouri. Today, more than 100 million people are sequestered in their homes.

Although they represent an effective way of mitigating the coronavirus, the isolation orders would make it impossible for tower technicians to perform their mission-critical jobs. Line and antenna company MDTS USA, for example, dispatches three crews from Ortonville, Michigan, to sites within a two-hour radius, which includes Detroit, Lansing, Ann Arbor and Flint. There is a solution. The government has provided letters to MDTS and other tower services companies that can be presented to authorities to prove that workers legally leave their homes to go to work. The letters are provided by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, which is part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

“The most important thing is the health of our employees, so we have been having a lot of conversations on hygiene and social distancing,” Jessica Cobb, CEO of MDTS, said. “But, without the CISA letters, there wouldn’t be any reason to come to the office. We couldn’t travel to our sites. We would have to shut down.”
Ortonville, Michigan-based MDTS is one of the tower services firms that has received letters that allow technicians out of their homes because their job includes maintaining and restoring communications infrastructure in response to the COVID-19 Declaration of National Emergency.

According to the letter, “In the course of providing support, the bearer must be able to travel to and access the infrastructure facilities during curfews or restricted travel periods…” A similar letter allows the bearer to buy fuel. Both letters are valid from March 16 to May 28, 2020.

The letters were obtained by Todd Schlekeway, president and CEO of NATE: The Communications Infrastructure Contractors Association, and are available to all NATE members. Other companies who work in the industry can contact the U.S. Department of Homeland Security via e-mail at [email protected] to request a copy of the letters.

WIA President and CEO Jonathan Adelstein, applauded the DHS action guaranteeing access to critical infrastructure, saying it built upon a provision championed by WIA in the 2018 Sandy Recovery Improvement Act.

“WIA thanks the Department of Homeland Security for expeditiously providing the Declaration of National Emergency Access Letter so that wireless technicians can access essential communications facilities,” Adelstein said in a prepared statement. “It is crucial to maintain and service broadband infrastructure during this time so that businesses can continue to operate. This action by DHS, provides tower owners and authorized technicians access to communications infrastructure during emergencies, making available the means necessary to ensure that our nation’s networks remain up and running at their best during this critical time.”

MDTS is also encouraging its employees to practice social distancing. “We are asking our employees to limit their interactions from work to home,” Cobb said. “We are fortunate enough to be in an industry where we can remain working. Not everyone has else has that ability.”

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