FLORIDA - Phone Outage Affecting Tens of Thousands Blamed on Cut Line

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Title: Cut line KOs phone service posted 05/08/00

By Eileen Kelley STAFF WRITER

A severed Sprint Telephone line caused mayhem for businesses and emergency services Monday in Charlotte and Lee counties.

The outage affected tens of thousands of customers in Port Charlotte, Punta Gorda, Gulf Cove, Pine Island, North Fort Myers and parts of Cape Coral.

"It pretty much affected everything," said Sprint spokesman Jason Duff.

Charlotte and Lee counties' 911 systems and long-distance service, including 900 and toll-free numbers, could not be reached after the telephone line was cut, officials with the Charlotte County Sheriff's Office said.

Throughout Charlotte County, doctors could not receive pages, store clerks could not swipe credit cards, Internet service providers went offline and security alarms were silenced.

Residential service was mostly unaffected, other than long-distance.

Officials said that service could be restored as early as 11 p.m. Monday or as late as 4 p.m. today. The line was cut along U.S. 41 in North Fort Myers after 4:15 p.m.

At times, the 911 system was functioning when workers attempted to reroute the phone lines in Charlotte County, said Sheriff's Office 1st Sgt. Sherman Robinson.

But service was spotty, Robinson said.

"When you call 911 in Charlotte you don't get anything," he said. "We're not getting 911 calls so we're not sure what we missed. If no one answers 911 what are you going to do?"

People were asked to call 639-0013 instead. Users of cellular telephones were not affected.

Duff said a work crew from another agency doing some underground drilling cut two fiber-optic cables near Horvath Street and U.S. 41.

At 7:45 p.m., Sprint found the cut, which Duff estimated would take about three hours to repair. But rain caused delays because workers can't splice the cable in inclement weather.

In North Fort Myers, people calling 911 were mistakenly routed to a car dealership, said John Wilson, the director of Lee County's emergency management operations center.

"I'm sure the (dealership) was frustrated," Wilson said.

Wayne Sallade, Charlotte County emergency management director, said emergency systems were built with redundancy to avoid this problem. Calls should have been rerouted around the outage, he said.

"This wasn't supposed to be able to happen," he said. "For some reason that loop isn't working."

After Robinson realized that the backup system wasn't working he called district sergeants and advised them to step up patrols.

"The real concern is our medical calls," he said. "There's no way to know what we're missing but most people are smart enough to call the other numbers."

Robinson added extra patrols at Port Charlotte Town Center mall to watch banks and jewelry stores.

"Whenever you have a phone line cut, you're going to affect some alarms," he said. "You might have a bank sitting out there with no alarm."

The 911 system outage hit Lee County twice Monday. The first time it was down for 15 minutes when an attempt to upgrade the Sheriff's Office communication system knocked the whole computer system offline, said Larry King, a spokesman for the Sheriff's Office.

"It is bizarre that both of these things happened in the same day," King said. Emergency calls were rerouted in Lee County when the first phone line problem occurred.

Staff writers Scott Carroll, Jim Waymer and Maggie Galehouse contributed to this report. Sarasota Bradenton Venice Manatee Charlotte Longboat Key Siesta Florida beaches Gulf golf news sports weather entertainment



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