Major link in system is revealed after cable cut
Douglas County emergency officials learned a valuable lesson this week when a cut cable disrupted long distance and 911 emergency service.
“There’s a major weak link in our communication system,” said Dick Mirgon, county emergency management communications director. “We have one single point of failure that needs to be corrected that I, in my life, never imagined existed.
“If we had a major earthquake, we would lose 90 percent of our communication in this region because of things like this.”
Mirgon said he would take his concerns to the Public Service Commission.
A fiber optic cable was cut Wednesday afternoon by a construction crew working in Reno. The snapped line cut service to about 80,000 customers south of Reno from 4:30 p.m. until 12:30 a.m. Thursday.
“We didn’t lose 911 per se. It’s operated out of our central office,” he said. “We lost the enhanced portion that automatically brings up the location identification for the caller. That comes from a California database.”
Mirgon said because of how Nevada Bell sets up the cellular network through Reno, the county lost the ability to dial cellular phones, use pagers or the access the county’s criminal justice computer link.
“We depend on all these types of technologies in a disaster,” Mirgon said. “When you consider one cable can take us out, that’s a completely unacceptable decision. I’m amazed the Public Service Commission allowed it to occur.
“When we look at public safety applications, we try to build redundancy into it. The reason we use different technologies such as pagers and cellular phones is so you have an alternative in the event one fails.”
Mirgon said water systems and power grids are engineered with alternative back up systems.
“That way, if there’s a break in the water system in one place, everyone is not without water. Power grids operate the same way. The power is rerouted through a different path.
“I’m amazed Nevada Bell wasn’t required to do the same thing,” Mirgon said.
He plans to contact the PSC to raise these issues.
“I asked myself what we’d be left with in a major earthquake,” Mirgon said. “The answer was, ‘Not much.'”
Bill Henderson, marketing director for Carson Valley Inn, said the telephone outage eliminated all outgoing local and long distance calls.
“It affected all our departments and after 5 p.m., it affected our customers. We noticed we were getting virtually no reservations or any inbound calls. We were cut off from all reservations until the service was back up,” Henderson said. “We also lost our Internet and automatic teller machines and access to our central credit checking bureau.
“Overall, it wasn’t as disastrous as it could have been had it been a busier time of year or day of the week,” Henderson said.
Mike Page, GTE public affairs manager in Victorville, Calif., said the system’s 34,000 Nevada customers – including Douglas County – were affected by the outage even though the carrier is Nevada Bell.
“GTE is always looking for alternate routes for the protection of the customer,” he said. “You can put in another route for the phone line to go out, but you may be talking anywhere from hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars.
“We certainly were in touch with Nevada Bell to see if there was anything we could do.”
Mirgon said when the system was down, dispatchers were still receiving 911 calls, although the enhancement program was out that flashes the caller location on the screen.
“It had a negligible affect, as our policy is always to ask for the caller’s location,” Mirgon said. “We don’t rely on it and don’t depend on it unless the caller can’t talk. We ask because we want to make sure the address is correct and the caller hasn’t walked down the street somewhere.”
Mirgon said if 911 ever does fail, and callers are too stressed or unable to recall emergency numbers, they should just dial “O” for operator.
“The next best thing is to just use the old-fashioned method,” Mirgon suggested. “Just tell the operator, ‘I need help.’ Depending on the situation, the operator may have a way to reroute the call.”
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