Telephone Sabotage Impacts Lives, Livelihoods, and Public Safety
Throughout the South Bay on Thursday, numerous businesses, including gas stations and banks, were shut down. Credit card and ATM access were unavailable due to Internet and other services being affected by the phone outage. Businesses couldn't take debit and some credit cards, and some people were unable to use food stamps and WIC cards at grocery stores. IBM's offices in San Jose sent a number of employees home for the day. These losses only scratched the surface of the effects on the area:
- Police cars and fire trucks were stationed at over a dozen different shopping centers in the South Bay, since the public couldn't make calls for assistance.
- Santa Clara County activated its Emergency Operations Center (EOC).
- Saint Louise Hospital in Gilroy was forced to cancel all elective surgeries to keep capacity open in case of an emergency.
- The county sheriff increased staffing and patrols, and placed additional ambulances in the area.
- Authorities released 10-digit numbers to be called by residents who could not reach 911, another service impacted by the sabotage.
- Gilroy police doubled the force of seven officers that were normally on the streets on a typical day, instructing residents to flag down an officer if they needed help.
- Emergency personnel went door-to-door in many areas, conducting welfare checks on vulnerable populations like seniors and the disabled.
Within minutes of the 2 a.m. outage, police in Morgan Hill and Gilroy contacted Santa Clara County dispatchers to report that their phones were down. Even though telephones were out, police and fire radios remained operational. This meant that field officers were able to get calls from dispatchers and communicate with one another to coordinate aid for anyone reporting a local fire or requesting police assistance. (As the authors have pointed out in many previous articles, it's hard to dig up or cut air. Many types of radios still work in these kinds of situations.) By late Thursday night, the day of the sabotage, officials said that phone service had been restored to most of the thousands of people in the San Jose area subject to the outage. Until that time, however, all of the news media accounts painted a chilling picture of a large U.S. county being forced to resort to manual means after telecom lifelines of all types were cut. To quote a few:
"Our main concern is 911. If someone is having an emergency and can't make a phone call, they should go to the nearest firehouse, police station, or hospital emergency room," one county spokeswoman said. "We have people at those areas with radios that are still operational," she explained, meaning that police and fire personnel could communicate with one another to coordinate emergency response.
Who is going to walk to a fire station? What about the public calling in? With all due respect to the responders, statements like these indicate at least some lack of adequate preplanning. Indeed, certain telecommunications technologies in the area survived and could have been utilized, had authorities planned for these capabilities in advance.