Disaster Council hears report on phone outages

April 13, 2009 7:56:30 PM PDT
Emergency planners in several Bay Area counties are giving themselves some credit for the way they dealt with last Thursday's phone and internet service sabotage.

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It was an event that taught disaster planners a new lesson.

"I don't think truly that we ever thought that somebody would go underground and clip cables that so interfered with our communications system," Santa Clara County Supervisor Liz Kniss said.

Kniss chairs Santa Clara County's disaster council. Its leaders gathered to evaluate how well they worked around the loss of the 911 system when fiber optic cables were cut in San Jose and San Carlos.

"The fact that we recovered in less than 24 hours is really an indication of how well things went," county communications director Bert Hildebrand said.

The county already had the commitment of Cisco Systems' satellite van, which was deployed to Morgan Hill. It restored critical communications among government agencies.

Neighbors were told to watch out for each other and to flag down patrolling deputies and fire units, a procedure borrowed from earthquake drills.

"Who are the most fragile in their neighborhood, to go and check on them because if you go and check, and something's wrong, at least the neighborhood could mobilize to find a resource for that, so I think that's what we're going to have to do," public health officer Dr. Marty Fenstersheib said.

As stranded as residents and business owners might have felt, they must be prepared to be self-sufficient for hours, and even days in any disaster, natural or man-made.

"That's why it's so important for individuals, families and communities to maintain their battery-operated radio as part of their disaster kit so when they lose that telephone service that they can turn on their radio and tune into the media," Office of Emergency Services spokesperson Miguel Grey said.

San Carlos police say they are still waiting for an outside company to report if a red light camera caught the cable cutters in action.

San Carlos and San Jose police report a total of 24 calls to their tip lines, but no new developments in their investigation.

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