TEXAS - 30,000 Lose Phone Service

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Phone Failure Silences New Braunfels

By By John Gutierrez-Mier and Roger Croteau

Express-News Staff Writers

June 30, 2000

NEW BRAUNFELS  Phone service to more than 30,000 customers was interrupted Friday for almost six hours on the eve of one of the city's busiest holiday weekends, causing headaches for merchants and city officials.

At about 5:20 a.m., a safety switch at Southwestern Bell's central office on East San Antonio Street failed, cutting phone service for most of the city.

A few scattered neighborhoods weren't affected because their service was connected to a different switch, Southwestern Bell spokesman Joe Izbrand said.

Most of the city's telephone customers, however, were greeted by silence when they picked up their phones Friday morning. And people calling into the area heard a message telling them: "All circuits are busy now. Please try your call again later."

Throughout the outage, the city's emergency 911 station remained intact, officials said. But police, firefighters and EMS only could be reached by cell phone.

"Our immediate goal was to get out information that people could still reach us," police Lt. Doug Dunlap said.

Residents and visitors were alerted to the phone problem with radio and TV spots, he said.

"By using their cellular telephones, they were still able to call into the 911 center," Dunlap said. "Surprisingly, everything was smooth. From a public safety standpoint, there wasn't much we could do. We're pretty lucky it was only a short period of time," Dunlap said.

By 11 a.m., police officers and emergency personnel could dial out, and normalcy slowly returned.

But for Carol Hendrickson, who works at the pro shop at Sundance Golf Course, the phone glitch was difficult to handle.

"Normally we'd be really busy, especially on a holiday weekend," said Hendrickson, who explained that Friday is when most tee times for weekend golf games are phoned in.

And as with other merchants across the city, credit cards were almost useless. All credit cards must be authorized through a phone system, Hendrickson said.

Most phone service was restored by noon. But Izbrand said the phone company planned to look into the outage.

"Southwestern Bell has launched an investigation to determine why it failed. A switch is like a mainframe computer that routes all the traffic through it," he said.

Michael Meek, president of the New Braunfels Chamber of Commerce, said the impact for tourists was minimal.

"Had this been five years ago, this might have been devastating," Meek said. "But with the advent of computers, we're doing so much more business online it really didn't matter."



-- (Dee360Degree@aol.com), July 01, 2000

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