The following photo and story was scanned from the St. Albans Messenger which is apparently the only news media that found this newsworthy
GEORGIA- Damage to equipment here Saturday afternoon resulted in a loss of telephone service to much of Franklin County for more than seven hours. Verizon service was lost Saturday, shortly after 2 p.m., when someone was cutting a tree and a branch hit a utility line. Witnesses in Georgia Center said sparks were seen flying from the line, and there was a loud bang. Mary Campbell, in a email message to the Messenger, said those sitting outside of the Georgia Historical Museum saw the line going to that building begin whipping from the force of the line that broke up the road.
"The only thought at that time was that we prayed that no one was hurt, since there were people around there when it happened," wrote Campbell. "No one was hurt, but the pole started on fire and shortly after the fire truck arrived. Traffic was backed up as far as the Georgia Elementary School until it was under control."
The loss of service affected both in and outgoing phone calls in the county at the start of the long holiday weekend.
Fire knocks out phones in 8 Vermont towns
Residents of eight towns in three northern Vermont counties were unable to receive telephone calls from outside their towns or call out of their towns for more than seven hours Saturday due to a fire that damaged Verizon Communications cables.
The outage affected the town of Milton in Chittenden County; Enosburg, Fairfax, Fairfield, St. Albans, Swanton and Richford in Franklin County; and Grand Isle in Grand Isle County, said Joanne Fenoff, director of regulatory affairs of Verizon Communications in Vermont.
The fire occurred when a tree being trimmed by someone in Georgia came down on a power line that then fell on a fiber optic line and a cable with a 200-customer capacity and caused a fire, Fenoff said. The accident occurred about 3:30 p.m.; Verizon was notified about 4:30 p.m., she said. Telephone service was expected to be restored late Saturday before midnight.
Colchester Police Department dispatcher Earl Benway said 911 calls from Milton were being handled by Milton Rescue, which was then relaying the calls to other agencies. He said that as of 9:30 p.m. the outage had not created any life-threatening situations.
It should also be noted that in all of the towns that I checked, the only phone number listed for emergency services was 911 which was not in service because of this outage - WCAX TV did an extremely poor job of coverage on this problem which brings to light one problem we have here in our own town. We have no emergency numbers listed except 911, at least to my knowledge. My daughter Mary Kay was called in and works for CellularOne. I actually did not realize we were having a problem with the phones. As soon as we were aware, I went out to my car and called Mary Kay on my cell phone. She told me what had happened and she was right out straight rerouting so that cell phone coverage could be restored in the effected areas. Apparently they rerouted through New York State so that St. Albans would have coverage.
I also turned on my Ham Radio and found that Brad Murray was on and they were using the repeater in St. Albans to assist in any way they could. Through various Ham Radio Operators, they were able to contact a Doctor in Alburg who was needed in the Emergency Room at Northwest Medical Center. Since the doctor had no home phone number, from what I gathered, a member of Alburg Rescue went to his home after finally locating where the Dr. lived. Had the doctor had a home phone number listed, I believe he could have been called from within the Alburg exchange, but this was not the case. To the best of my knowledge, there were no serious emergencies. I switched over to Channel 5 and found nothing, although they may have had something on when I was on one of the other stations. Channel 22 had football, so did not stay tuned to that.
This was certainly a rude awakening as to the preparedness we have in an emergency situation here in town in getting the word out to the residents. One must remember however, don't complain about the problem, unless you are part of the solution. I have my Ham Radio License and have been asked to help out in case of an emergency, but have not been active in it. I did not get on the radio last night as there was nothing I felt I could contribute. In a real desperate emergency, I probably would not be much good as depending on the type of emergency, I would probably want to make sure my wife was taken care of and would place that at the top of my priority.
The above notes are strictly my personal opinion and I welcome any comments from anyone. You may send them to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will add them to this site.
Henry A. Raymond - Fairfax, Vermont
They really down played the situation. We, myself and the field techs working with me felt it was very important to get 911 up on the 3 (St. Albans, Jay Peak, and Barton)sites we rerouted through NY to return service to customers. The sites cover several towns and would allow a customer in an area that did not have a local 911 get a call out to 911. I think now would be a great time for local #'s for the fire dept and rescue to be setup and on stickers for the phones like when I was a child as an alternate means of help, ofcourse, always use the 911 system first when you can.
I know we were all determined not to go home until we could say that if you had a CellularOne phone and cell coverage you could make an emergency call.
Received the following note from my Son-in-law, Mike Empey in Bellows Falls who works for Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant in Vernon:
Any how the LEPCs overseen by the State Emeregncy Response Committees (SERCs) were mandated but not properly funded to do this integrated planning as you might expect with an unfunded madate not much has been done. It not evidenct to me that the VT LEPC arebeing very active or developing integrated plans. The exceptions being Windham county (home of VY and using VY funds) and in Chittenden county (probably using IBM money) . Even Windham counties planning fairly questionable for other tahn a nuclear disater it would not even be tested were it not for VY drills. Yep part of writing comprehensive plans is to test them too.
Unfortunately most people don't care much or want to pay for emergency planning till they experience a disaster or near disaster. There is no excuse for the hospitals, fire departmenst, ambulance services, police, public works etc.. knowing how to get a hold of their people. The first infrastructure to be overloaded in any emergency is the phones both normal and cellular. This is why the Red Cross tells you to have an out of state contact for your family to call and say where they are or where they will meet up in an emergency. This is because local phone exchanges will overload and long distance exchanges will be less likely to during a somewhat localized emergency.
During the 911 tragedy the cell system was nearly wortheless (partially because they had towers on the WTCs). Vermont's Cell infrastructire is a joke with huge areas of non coverage (and the NIMBYs are not allowing it to get any better due to concerns for how towers mar the landscape), also the emergency services through out the state of Vermont are no better off than the Emergency Services in NYC, which is to say that through out most of the US police, fire, and ambulance usually can't talk to each other due to no common radio channels or incompatible systems.
In my opinion the first step is for the citizens to get fed up and demand planning, when told it costs too much be ready to start grass roots efforts. The Red Cross has some great info on planning for an emergency. Local FDs and EMS should be made aware of people with pre-existing medical problems so they could have volunteers check on them. Plans should be made to staff the local fire stations when there is a phone or power outage so that people can always go to them and find somebody ready to respond. Fire Stations should have emergency generators and regularly tested communications systems. Emergency groups and medical personnel from hospitals should have plans on how they will deal with loss of normal communications.
What ever caused this problem should be disseminated to all of the VT emergency management community. Then all areas should evaluate if they are subject to the same thing (don't rely on the government they will just do and expensive non conclusive study with recommendations to spend loads of your money). I know I will be bringing the situation up to my department to consider in our emergency plans as we rely on the phones to supplement some of our staff (our primary responders are on pagers and have the duty for week at a time 24-7, 365). We also use local response agencies to assist us.
I hope you are able to get peolple excited about doing something. I tell our local 1st responders "don't count on the state or feds for the first 12 to 24 hours of a disaster, all disasters are local you will own it first". If you get something going let me know if I can help.
My Feelings on Public Response On Phone Outage:
First I want to thank Brad Murray and all the ham operators involved for working tirelessly for so many hours doing all they could to help out in this emergency situation. Also I want to add I was very proud of my daughter's role in providing Cell Phone Coverage for the affected areas which allowed 911 calls to be rerouted to Williston area. Great job!
That being said, I feel very disappointed at the lack of attention or coverage given this situation by the local TV stations. WCAX barely mentioned it on the 6pm and 11 o'clock news. To them it appeared it was no big deal. What about the fact that local fire departments had no number published for townspeople in their areas to call in case of a fire or for a rescue squad response. What about critically ill patients in their homes or possible road accidents? Not even "0" on your phones would connect with an operator. If your town was fortunate enough to have a switch building locally then you could call within your towns phone exchange (ie 849 in Fairfax) and luckily Fairfax had one. Towns without this switch building were left with not even a dial tone from around 3pm (estimated) until well after midnight.
Our television stations are constantly flashing their testing of their Emergency Systems, however when a regular critical incident happens they don't even recognize what's happening or the fallout from it? I for one felt insulted and ashamed of them. They had phone service, they had cell phones available and with a little ingenuity and where with all they could easily have found out what was happening as a result of the outage by calling Verizon, asked if there was any critical fallout from it, then proceeded to gather helpful information like a local contact number for each town affected for emergency calls to go to. This could have been collected and coordinated by Ham Operators and passed along so they could have published them on screen. Also announcing that people could use their cell phones in an emergency and get help by calling *611.
In this age of communication with so much technology available to us that thousands of people were left virtually without a way to seek help for many hours last evening leaves me questioning how prepared we really are for a real emergency.
I can tell you from personal experience (I was Net Control for part of the emergency last night) that the E-911 system, touted though it may be, is a sick puppy with all its' eggs in one Verizon cable by design. As a result the entire State Police and E-911 systems for Franklin and Grand Isle counties were compromised last night. Moreover, no phone calls could take place from one local exchange to any adjacent exchange anywhere in Franklin or Grand Isle Counties. Thus many Mutual Aid agreements were of no value in the event of needs for Fire and or Rescue backup. The hams did their best to cover Central Dispatch, the State Police barracks, County Sheriff, etc. to ensure cross-exchange communications.
As Fairfax Emergency Management Coordinator, on learning of the problem, I immediately notified two Town Selectmen. That was at about 5:30 PM.
The hams involved in handling the situation are today recording their recollections, concerns, ideas and strong messages for absurdity! It will be compiled into one message meant to get the attention of people who have work to do!
David B. Murray
Many thanks, Henry, for all of your info regarding our recent telephone outage. No, I don't believe that you are being oversensitive over all this, because we feel the exact same way. We have 5 children, and I am home a lot with my kids, being a homeschool mom. I was shocked that we knew nothing about this outage on Saturday. Vince and I went with our 3 older children to the Toby Keith/Montgomery Gentry Concert down at the Fairgrounds down in Essex Jct., and on our way we stopped at Vince's work to have the kids hit the lavatory one last time before we went. I decided to call home because I forgot to tell out babysitter something about our 9 month-old. I couldn't get through, but it wasn't a dire emergency, so I just shrugged it off. We left Vince's pager number with our sitter, who just happened to be Kaitlin Langelier, in case she needed us. She would've never been able to get ahold of us had something happened, and that scared me. Luckily her mom, Karen, called and left a local number for her to call in case of an emergency. Nothing was mentioned at the fair, and there was tons of radio coverage there. Thank God she didn't need us. I think this was a huge deal, and yes, I do feel helpless when I can't reach my fire company or rescue squad!
(I sent an email to Marselis Parsons last Sunday morning expressing my dissappointment that Channel 3, our largest, oldest and the one with the best coverage did not provide individuals in the affected area with more information that they could use. The following was his response to me)
We covered the story. We told people where to call. People dont watch tv with pencil and notepad at the ready. We cannot give a long list of teplephone numbers. 14 numbers at 11 oclock? Not a chance. We gave them the best alternative: calling the state police in Williston. That's what was suggested to us. In case you missed it, here are our stories.
Phone service in parts of Franklin County are out at the moment -- including the 9-1-1 emergency system. No word on when the problem will be fixed.
[CG :InfoCen2\Williston State Police\878-7111]
Phone service in parts of Franklin and Grand Isle County is out of order tonight -- including the 9-1-1 emergency system. Officials expect the problem to be fixed soon.
The towns of Milton, Enosburg Falls, Alburg, Isle LaMotte, Montgomery, Richford and Grand Isle are still without service. However, some people do have dial tones now.
People with emergencies are asked to try calling 9-1-1, and if that doesn't work, they should try their local police and fire departments.
Hopefully Brad knows that there is a brand new Director at Vt Emergency Management Agnecy named Howard Rice who is a good man but has inherited a turkey and our lame duck Governor does not care much anyway. Howard is(or was) a Malletts Bay Fire Captain and is originally from down our way Westminster. I have a meeting with him this month I will be sure to say. something about it this phone outage.
Also just want all your loyal readers to rest assured that VY finds problems but we have triple back-up on everything or the Feds would shut us down. More to the point is what ever comes of your crisis up there they need to test the fix and practice the response for the future.
I learned quite a bit about our phone system today. Enough to motivate a short meeting of the Fairfax Emergency Management Committee so that all members will be on the same page regarding exposures to people and property in Fairfax when such a phone breakdown occurs. Then we will work on what to do to minimize the exposures for such an incident and modify the Fairfax Emergency Management Plan accordingly.