NAPA, Calif. (KGO) --A major hub for phone and Internet service in Napa Valley took a big hit in Sunday's quake. It's been red-tagged, but city officials are allowing it to remain open because it's an essential service.
When a building is red-tagged, that usually means no one is allowed in since there's too much danger. However, that's not the case here. The site is too important to close.
The AT&T central office in Downtown Napa has the highest classification in the building codes -- Category IV -- because it's a communications center required for emergency response. It provides 911 and wireless service to Napa police and fire, but also phone and Internet to everyone living in the Napa Valley.
After that jolt Sunday morning, a massive concrete wall on the building's top floor gave way.
"It's red-tagged and it is open because it's an essential services building for Northern California for infrastructure for phone service and data," Napa's chief building official Dan Kavarian said.
The wall came down intact. It cut the building's connection to PG&E and when the backup generator failed, the facility had to go to stand-by batteries. So now, crews have brought in a generator and a massive cooling unit to keep the computer servers running while the building is repaired.
When asked if you could compare the building to a patient on life-support, Kavarian said, "Exactly." And when asked if it really was that serious, he responded, "Yes it is, they're working day and night to get the service back up, so they can continue normal operations."
AT&T's director of communications, Alex Carey, declined to be interviewed on camera citing concerns for security at the sensitive facility. He sent an email that reads in part, "Our network is performing well and sustained only minor damage.Technicians worked quickly to make needed repairs and all services are currently running normally."
Carey did confirm some cell and landline service was out Sunday morning and emergency officials tell me they lost wireless for a time.
"My cellphone, I had a hard time getting to my own inspectors that were in the field doing assessment surveys. I could text, limited text, but most of it would take forever or wouldn't go through," Kavarian said.
Napa Police Chief Richard Melton says the 911 system remained online, but the wireless problems affected the mobile data computers in police and fire units. He said, "Both in terms of the field units and in dispatch we had some display issues temporarily. We had radio contact, which is our primary way of communicating."
Another thing the I-Team questioned was those eight, small red brackets that carried the weight of the big concrete wall.
The I-Team asked Kavarian, "Some of the workers there, who actually work in that building, [said] they were surprised that just those brackets held up that wall. Was that an approved design?" Kavarian replied, "It would've been at the time."
Kavarian says AT&T is good about getting permits for construction. That bracket system was approved years ago, but they'll have to improve the design to meet modern quake standards.
Here are AT&T's written responses to the rest of the I-Team's questions
1) After visiting the site today, it is red-tagged.
The building is not red-tagged; only the parking lot is. The wall that was damaged was designed to be removable if the building was expanded in the future. We are removing and/or stabilizing parts of the building near the damage to ensure the area is safe.
2) That said, were any of the services that operate through the center interrupted for any length of time after the quake hit? I'm hearing conflicting reports.
Our network is performing well and sustained only minor damage. Technicians worked quickly to make needed repairs and all services are currently running normally. We're not providing additional details.
3) Did that box from which the wall fell have permits? Staff at the facility expressed surprise that just eight brackets were counted on to hold up such a big, concrete wall.
The structure met all uniform building codes when it was built, and was permitted. Again, the wall that was damaged was designed to be removable if the building was expanded in the future. We are removing and/or stabilizing parts of the building near the damage to ensure the area is safe.
4) Finally, I would like a step-by-step narrative of what happened, to make sure the one that I will be reporting is accurate.
As I said, our network is performing well and sustained only minor damage. Technicians worked quickly to make needed repairs and all services are currently running normally. We're not providing additional details.