Phone outage under review

March 20, 2007

Where were you when the phones went out? A lot of people were at work.  Emergency responders are still evaluating what happened and how they handled the crisis.

People take phones for granted, until outages such as yesterday. Says Lynn Dent, who works in a local office.  "I tried to make several outgoing phone calls and wasn't able to get out and I tried to use my cell phone several times and wasn't able to get through."  Pamela Duhon was taking her husband to the doctor when they discovered the phone weren't working.  "We tried to reach family members and started getting scared and wondering what was going on. And many people were saying it was like, a terror attack. And I said no it's not."

Luckily for most people the phone outage was nothing more than an inconvenience. Dent says, "We weren't able to get through some calls we needed to get through, but really nothing horrible happened."  Duhon says everying turned out fine.  "After everything came back on everybody got in touch with each other."  And some like Veronica Miller scarcely noticed.  "I didn't notice that the phone hadn't been ringing, but I guess that was the reason."

The phone outage was the main topic of a regularly meeting of Calcasieu's Local Emergency Planning Committee meeting. So far, it does not seem the situation proved catastrophic for anyone. Since people couldn't call 911,  agencies had to do their best to spread the word about alternative ways to report emergencies.

911 Director Robin Martin says even before this, they had talked about a backup system to respond to such a situation. "If the phone company arranged it so we automatically rolled over to another big switch, which I believe the closest is Alexandria, we would never lose service." But he admits it would probably cost a fortune. "You could be talking hundreds of millions of dollars.  And who would pay for that? The consumer in the long run."

Director of Calcasieu Emergency Operations Dick Gremillion says as with all incidents they evaluate, learn and try to improve. "We're going to give people a few days to digest what happened and what solutions we may be able to come up with."

An after action review for emergency responders is expected to take place next week.  Next week's "after action review" meeting is not expected be a public meeting. That's so emergency officials will feel free to hash out any concerns they might be reluctant to air publicly. However Gremillion says they will have a media briefing following the meeting. The time and date have not yet been set.