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Dead Phones Bring Emergency Operations to Life

Carbon, Schuylkill officials put plan into effect, patrol area when 5,500 GTE customers lose service from 1 to 6 a.m.


By CHRIS PARKER Of The Morning Call

More than 5,500 GTE telephone customers in Schuylkill and Carbon counties lost service for several hours early Tuesday, causing local officials to activate emergency operations plans.

Company spokeswoman Sara Vuick said GTE is working to find out why the service stopped 1-6 a.m.

The disruption affected 4,301 customers in the Mantzville exchange and 1,210 customers in the McKeansburg exchange.

The Mantzville exchange, 386, includes West Penn Township in Schuylkill County and East Penn Township and part of Mahoning Township in Carbon County.

The McKeansburg exchange, 943, includes New Ringgold in Schuylkill County.

The problem was with phone company equipment but has yet to be pinpointed, Vuick said.

"It was an internal situation," she said. "It was not something caused by the weather or someone hitting a line."

She couldn't say when the investigation would be finished.

"Given the complexity of our equipment, I'm just not sure," she said.

The disruption caused concern for Schuylkill County emergency agencies.

Carbon County Emergency Management Coordinator Scott Forster said East Penn Township emergency chief Todd Deem alerted him of the problem about 1:15 a.m.

Forster alerted Schuylkill County and then coordinated communications among GTE, the county and the state Emergency Management Agency.

Local emergency management coordinators immediately put their crisis operations plans into effect, Forster said.

Fire and ambulance crews roved the areas, checking for problems.

In Mahoning Township, emergency chief Mark Ebbert stopped at the Mahoning Valley Nursing and Rehabilitation Center and discovered a patient needed to be taken to the hospital.

He used his portable radio to send for an ambulance, Forster said.

Mike Cadau of Schuylkill County Emergency Management said emergency chiefs had their plans in place and handled the crisis well.

In West Penn Township, emergency chief Alan Parker said crews patrolled the area, using portable radios to communicate.

There were no emergencies there, he said.

Although records to track telephone service disruptions in Pennsylvania are not readily available, state Consumer Advocate Irwin Popowsky said complaints about telephone service might be rising.

"I think that, according to some Federal Communications Commission statistics, there has been an increase in basic phone complaints over the last few years," he said. "I think it may be in part due to the growing complexity of the equipment."

The new, digital switching technology can be a blessing or a curse, he said.

"While we have a lot more choices in types of services -- more bells and whistles you can get -- the most important thing is to be able to pick up a phone and get a dial tone in times of emergency."

The state Public Utility Commission may not keep tabs on how many times telephone service has been disrupted, said spokeswoman Verna Edmonds. But utilities must immediately file a report.

"They must report it to us when there is an outage," Edmonds said.

The report must include how many people were affected, the geographic area, when the outage began and ended and the cause.

"Utilities must file the report within one hour as soon as service to the last customer is restored," Edmonds said.

GTE has merged with Bell Atlantic and will become Verizon Communications Aug. 1.

-- (, July 12, 2000


Computer woes knock out phones GTE says about 5,500 lost service Tuesday, blames software problem.


A computer software glitch caused 5,500 people in Carbon and Schuylkill counties to lose telephone service early Tuesday, a GTE spokesman said.

The spokesman, Lee Gierczynski, said the company is trying to determine why it happened.

The disruption affected 4,301 customers in the 386 (Mantzville) exchange and 1,210 customers in the 943 (McKeansburg) exchange. The problem lasted from 1 a.m. to 6 a.m., requiring authorities to use crisis plans.

Fire and ambulance crews made rounds, looking for problems. Mahoning Township emergency chief Mark Ebbert found during his checks that a patient at the Mahoning Valley Nursing and Convalescent Center needed to go to a hospital.

He used a portable radio to call an ambulance

-- Martin Thompson (, July 13, 2000.

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