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Avoiding Telecom Sabotage, Part 2 of 2

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Leo A. Wrobel and Sharon M. Wrobel, specialists in disaster recovery and business resumption planning, conclude their series on avoiding the hazards of deliberate telephone sabotage with some suggestions about other communications options (some of them free!) that you should include in your First Alert procedures.
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In part 1 of this series, we explained how on April 9, 2009 someone deliberately cut underground fiber-optic cables in south San Jose, California, throwing the area into chaos and causing untold misery to millions. Other than pursuing the perpetrators (AT&T is offering a $250,000 reward), what can you do to mitigate the impact of such disasters on your home, your business, your community, yourself?

We ended part 1 with the beginning of a funny story. It seems that Twitter survived the AT&T outage. Not only did Twitter survive, but AT&T used Twitter to broadcast updates about the outage, and has continued using the service to provide AT&T updates to the community.

If Twitter could survive a telecom sabotage incident, you might think that other technologies could also survive—and you'd be correct! In this article, we'll examine some of those technologies.

Tweeting About Phone Sabotage

Following the fiber-optic sabotage, millions of people in Silicon Valley and San Francisco were without broadband, phone, and wireless service for most of that day. Twitter was used by communications giant AT&T to reach out and update its customers on April 9, as AT&T began "tweeting" about the sabotage in California around 7 a.m. PDT: "CA customers: We are aware of a cable cut situation impacting services in Santa Clara and San Jose areas."

Better than nothing, particularly when you can't pick up your phone and call people about the situation. From that point onward, AT&T sent more "tweets" (messages) to keep its customers up to date on the outage:

  • Informing customers that technicians had been on the scene.
  • Indicating that service would be restored as quickly as possible.
  • Apologizing for the outage.
  • Reporting that the outage was caused by vandals who had cut the fiber cables.
  • Offering a reward for anyone with information. ("AT&T offering $100,000 reward for info leading to arrest/conviction of those responsible for CA vandalism. Call 408-947-STOP.")

How did customers respond? One source quoted Janine Popick, CEO of VerticalResponse, a company affected by the outage, who stated that the only way she had stayed on top of the situation was via Twitter: "All of my real time updates have been coming from the AT&T Twitter feed." Thousands of people kept tabs on the situation via AT&T's Twitter feed.

How does a vehicle designed for social networking—a toy, in some people's eyes—help in a disaster? In part, Twitter survived due to the kind of Internet Protocol (IP) technology it employs. This is described in more detail later in this article. Since this technology survived, it could be used to coordinate and communicate connections.

Twitter is a Web-based social-networking service that lets people send messages of 140 characters or less to a group of followers. I (Leo) never took Twitter very seriously—though Sharon and the kids live and die by the thing, as well as by their MySpace accounts. (Leo's forays into the world of Facebook were less successful. After garnering hundreds of dubious email messages from Ukrainian women looking for husbands, he gave up and moved his profile to LinkedIn.)

Any technology that helps someone communicate can be very valuable when disaster strikes. This point wasn't lost on AT&T, which commonly uses Twitter to keep customers (and anyone else interested in the company) informed in real time. In serious moments like the sabotage incident, Twitter could be used to communicate about a crisis.

Reportedly, Sprint Nextel, whose wireless customers also experienced interruption, did not provide official updates via Twitter, though a company spokesperson updated customers and reporters via her personal Twitter feed: "Assessing fibercut issue in CA w/ network + emergency response team. We're all in this together folks. Let's have a day of peace in telecom."

Kind of makes you feel warm all over, doesn't it?

Let's not forget our friends at Verizon. Their spokesman sent updates with links to news stories about the outage. He even sent a message to AT&T's media relations representatives: "Understand spokesperson has been tough for reporters to reach at AT&T on Silicon Valley outage. Who should they call for info?"

This thing is starting to sound useful! But a lot more technology is available than just Twitter for people who plan ahead. Read on for more.

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