Thursday, February 26, 2009

Call Before You Dig...

Today's compromise of a Bresnan Communications fiber optic cable along Patterson Road in Grand Junction did more than just inconvenience a lot of people. It illustrated some potential vulnerabilities in our telecom infrastructure that may have to be addressed.

I got the first clue about a problem when listening to the scanner this morning, and hearing the Grand Junction High School office advise someone that all of their computers were down. I was then checking the TV channels, and noticed that the CBS and Fox channels (KREX and KFQX) were black, as well as Channel 16. Since these stations have largely transitioned to digital broadcasting, the likely majority of cable subscribers were likely unprepared and unable to tune their TV's to the over-the-air signal.

When I first read about the problem on the Sentinel's website, I put these together (KREX is still in the WCCC building, operated in part by District 51), and when I heard that it was the crew working on burying the Independent Ranchmen's Ditch along Patterson, the reported scope of the outage started to make more sense.

KJCT reported that an equipment operator had cut a cable containing 96 strands of fiber. The proximity of this cable to Bresnan's local headquarters may have contributed to the widespread scope of the outage, although my section of downtown did not appear to be affected.

School District 51 goes through Bresnan to support a significant portion of its' data and telecommunications networks, which explains the problems spread out across so many schools that were likely cut off from their database servers or phone switches by the cable cut.

Bresnan's responsiveness to the outage appeared to be effective and impressive, even if it did occur during the business day in close proximity to their offices. This was of particular concern because of Bresnan's position as a provider of local phone services, particularly 9-1-1 service, that were unavailable due to the fiber cut.

The word got out quickly via the media so that people with a service interruption could prepare to use another way to contact help if needed. This differs from Bresnan outages for scheduled maintenance, which have occurred in the middle of the night with no notice to customers at all.

This is not the first time that construction in the Patterson Road area has caused something like this. When 25 1/2 Road south of Patterson was re-constructed several years ago, a Qwest fiber cable was broken, resulting in interruption of phone and data services to the immediate area, including the fire station there.

One has to wonder how these kinds of things happen despite the requirements and resources in place to have buried utilities located before digging. One thing lacking from the broadcast media coverage was any attempt to interview the contractor responsible for the broken cable. I wonder why...

This doesn't happen very often, but when it does it definitely tends to create some widespread inconveniences, with the potential for some serious problems to develop if the root cause is more difficult to rectify than this one. When they say call before you dig, they mean it.

I believe that Bresnan takes its' responsibilities to the community seriously. I also hope that the contingencies and plans to address a catastrophic failure of their infrastructure (whether by an intentional act or not) are well established and reviewed regularly. There is a significant amount of the population in our area that trusts them to maintain the bulk of their connections to the outside world, 24 hours a day.

No comments: