Guest Commentary: Undersheriff Jerry Norberg's view on outageFollowing the fiber optic line break Jan. 26 in Duluth, which knocked out all telecommunications in Lake County for about 12 hours, including 911 service, the county board’s Paul Bergman asked emergency personnel and residents to send him letters in reaction to the outage. Here is a letter from Undersheriff Jerry Norberg.
Following the fiber optic line break Jan. 26 in Duluth, which knocked out all telecommunications in Lake County for about 12 hours, including 911 service, the county board’s Paul Bergman asked emergency personnel and residents to send him letters in reaction to the outage. Here is a letter from Undersheriff Jerry Norberg.
The recent fiber optic communication failure has produced a number of issues that need to be addressed. The fact that the “internet” went down was cause for concern in the public sector as far as the “business as usual” was interrupted. That part was relatively easy to get around. The issue of the 911 system being completely shutdown is another.
The 911 system is the life line between those in peril and those that can help. It is the staple of the EMS system and public safety.
The fact that one fiber optic line can shut down emergency telecommunications for the entire North Shore of Lake Superior is absolutely inexcusable. The fiber optic owner, Qwest, assured us, in the past, if this precise thing happened, they would be able to re-route our 911 calls without service interruption.
On Jan. 26, a fiber optic line was rendered incapacitated. Calls were made to Qwest and we were told that they do not have the capabilities to re-route our 911 system.
Thankfully, Lake County dispatcher Steve Olson was in the office and, with the help of Frontier telephone, was able to “make 911 work.” It took a great deal of time and effort to accomplish this.
Personnel was sent to various parts of the county to answer re-re-routed phone calls. This was not an easy fix. It took hours to get this done – hampered by the fact that we had no telephone service to outlying areas, no cell phone coverage. The only communication we had was our two radio system.
Careful coordination with St. Louis County, Cook County, Frontier and Qwest permitted limited communications.
We had no warning about the 911 system going down. We knew the internet went down but, if not for Steve Olson doing a check, 911 could have been down for a very long time without our knowledge.
This is not acceptable. If the public can’t get through on 911, they have no way to get help. Public safety is a top priority in Lake County. There is nothing more important and, on Jan. 26, we felt virtually helpless.
It was a very tense afternoon here. A huge sigh of relief was felt when the “makeshift” 911 system was made operational.
I would like to mention that Steve Olson, John Swardstrom, Frontier telephone employee Jamie Gelineau, Emergency Management Director B.J. Kohlstedt, fire and rescue members and ambulance personnel performed admirably in the face of this crisis.
All that said, we cannot have this happen again. I am told by Steve Olson that this very thing can and probably will happen again.
It is painfully obvious that we “were sold a bill of goods” from Qwest. This incident should be a huge red flag that we should not be relying on others for our critical infrastructure.
I realize that the Lake County board is in the process of deciding whether or not to bring its own fiber optics into service. It is my belief that fiber optics can be a very good thing, as long as it is done properly. I believe, had Lake County had its own fiber optic program here, we would not have had the problems that we encountered Jan. 26. The ability to re-route 911 calls is of the utmost importance in the event of an outage.
We dodged a huge bullet. We may not be so lucky next time. The ultimate question that needs to be addressed is: If Lake County goes to fiber optics, can this exact situation be avoided?
Thanks for looking into this matter.