Dump truck’s mishaps shows vulnerability of East Jefferson telecommunications

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

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PORT TOWNSEND — The dump truck that severed a fiber-optic line, dousing Internet and phone service to thousands of people shows the vulnerability of modern telecommunications in East Jefferson County.

But backup systems also worked, and some users had service before full service was restored about 11 hours later.

At about 8:50 a.m. Saturday, a large dump truck, with its bed raised, severed a fiber-optic line at the corner of Frederick Street and state Highway 20.

The fiber-optic wire ran parallel with Highway 20 on the west side of the road while the truck was turning left and heading toward Port Townsend, according to East Jefferson Fire-Rescue.

The truck did not stop.

Mobilisa CEO Nelson Ludlow, whose communications company is about a block from where the incident occurred, said the company was able to implement backup systems that most homes and small businesses do not have.

Ludlow said that Century­Link “did a really good job in getting everything back up again.”

Peninsula susceptibilityThe Olympic Peninsula is subject to these setbacks, Ludlow added, because there is no redundant backup.

“You can’t put a backup fiber in the same tube as your regular fiber,” he said.

No charges have been filed against the truck driver, and the investigation is continuing, said Sheriff’s Chief Criminal Deputy Joe Nole.

Nole said the Sheriff’s Office had made contact with the owner of the truck, which he identified as M&M Trucking of Port Townsend.

Nole said his office identified the driver but would not disclose his name.

Nole said M&M had made contact with CenturyLink, which owns and operates the severed cable.

Calls to M&M for comment were not returned Monday.

East Jefferson Fire-Rescue spokesman Bill Beezley said a staff member of the fire agency saw the incident, and it appeared that the driver was aware of it.

“It was clear that he knew that he had done something that he wasn’t supposed to,” Beezley said.

The severed line disabled the majority of local telephone and Internet service for Port Townsend and some surrounding areas, and also disrupted cellular service.

CenturyLink spokesperson Jan Kampbell said she had heard T-Mobile was the only carrier that was disrupted, although there were reports that AT&T and Sprint service also had outages.

Service was back to normal by around 7 p.m. Saturday.

Kampbell did not have an accurate number of those affected but estimated that it was in the thousands.

The loss of phone service meant that local merchants could not conduct credit card transactions, which could have cut into their holiday business.

Businesses were able to accept cash, checks and — in some cases — an IOU.

“We had a good day,” said Lynn LeMaster, co-owner of Lehani’s Restaurant in Port Townsend.

“We did a good cash business, although I have a list of people who owe me money.”

LeMaster said she wasn’t worried about collecting.

Clothing store About Time didn’t lose any business as shopkeepers were able to use the manual credit card machine that was still in the store, according to salesclerk Cathy Boyd.

The merchants did help each other out, and her store ended up taking empty credit slips to several other merchants, Boyd said.

Those who didn’t have the old-style machine were able to write the card numbers down and input the charge at a later time.

But in those cases, there is no way to verify the card’s balance to cover the transaction, said Sue Arthur, owner of Maricee Fashions.

“When these things happen you just adapt.” Arthur said.

Quimper Mercantile Co. maintained its credit card connection because it contracts service through Wave Broadband rather than CenturyLink, although its phones were down, according to store manager Sheldon Spencer.

Although Saturday’s cable severance was an accident, it showed that the area could be subject to a malicious attack.

“And there are a lot of places around here that would be vulnerable if people knew where they were,” Mobilisa’s Ludlow said.

Jefferson County Reporter Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at charlie.bermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: December 03. 2012 5:57PM
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