Cut line knocks out phone, internet
July 11, 2019
For several hours beginning Tuesday morning, many people had to forego communicating via landline phones or sending out email, as a cut communication line interrupted phone and internet services not just for Thermopolis, but all over the Big Horn Basin.
According to Becky Dooley, the vice president and general manager of RT Communications, the interruption came when crews were on a routine wreck out of an abandoned aerial copper facility. She explained that since the company is switching over to fiber optics the copper lines are no longer active. However, there was an active fiber attached to a copper facility.
A total 420 feet were cut, Dooley said, and there was loss of voice services and internet in Thermopolis, Shoshoni, Jeffrey City, Gas Hills, Kaycee, Midwest and Worland. Dooley expressed her appreciation to the crews who responded quickly to the problem and got everything back up and running and for customers' patience; she also apologized for any inconvenience.
The popularity of cell phones meant people were still able to call each other, but interruption of regular internet service meant important emails couldn't be sent or received. Additionally, resources businesses might use, such as online images and reports, were unavailable. As another impact to business as usual, many credit card readers were non-functional.
When faced with a sudden break in the means of communication we take for granted, after the initial shock and frustration wears off thoughts turn to whether we would be notified on time in case of an emergency. To that end, Dooley said, 911 calls we re-routed to Big Horn County.
Hot Springs County Emergency Management Coordinator Bill Gordon worked with law enforcement and other agencies, both in and outside the community, to keep people informed of what numbers they could call.
Gordon even put up his personal cell phone number as a contact, though he only received one call. A former dispatch and dispatch supervisor, it was fairly easy for Gordon to take on the role again.
He explained that he was at a desk in the squad room at the Joint Law Enforcement Center, with the door to the dispatch center propped open so he could relay the information. Due to the amount of electronics in dispatch, being right in the room could have interfered with a cell signal.
On the one call he did receive, relaying wasn't necessary as there were two officers in the squad room with him who heard everything and responded immediately. The call was in regard to a suspected drunk driver and led to an arrest.
Gordon further noted he utilized the National Weather Service to put out alerts over the radio when services were down, and again when they were restored at about 5 p.m.
Several asked why he didn't use the CodeRED notification system, and he explained there could be a chance that cell phone service would be down as well. When that happens, messages sent through CodeRED are held by the cell carriers until service is restored. Essentially, people would be getting messages about the outage after everything was restored, which would've been fairly confusing.
Though the loss of communication was unexpected, the situation was handled with safety and efficiency to keep everyone safe and connected.