U.S. phone networks down, but not out
By BEN KLAYMAN and JEREMY PELOFSKY, Reuters News Agency
Wednesday, September 12, 2001
Millions of Americans jammed telephone lines across the United States to check on friends and relatives Tuesday after devastating aircraft attacks in New York, Washington and Pittsburgh, but despite the traffic the U.S. telephone networks continued to operate.
With phone lines inundated, scores of Americans turned to the Internet to inform friends and relatives by e-mail that they were safe. The phone companies pleaded with callers to avoid making calls so that emergency calls could get through.
“We're experiencing double call volume of a normal busy day, which is generating network congestion. The network is fine. There's just too many calls,” said Dave Johnson, a spokesman for AT&T Corp., the nation's biggest long-distance carrier.
Earlier Tuesday, two commercial jetliners crashed into New York's World Trade Center after hijackings, causing the collapse of the landmark twin towers. Another hijacked commercial airliner crashed into the Pentagon in Washington, and a fourth crashed outside Pittsburgh. There was no immediate death toll, but the loss of life was expected to have been catastrophic.
In Manhattan, the streets were clogged with pedestrians making calls on their cellphones, although many said they were unable to get signals, and long lines formed at pay phones.
“The long-distance networks are experiencing heavy calling volume and it's just way too early to tell if there are any problems,” said Mark Marchand, a spokesman for Verizon Communications, the nation's biggest local phone company and the dominant service provider in the northeast corridor.
Verizon had a switching centre, which routes telephone calls, on the 10th floor of one of the now-collapsed World Trade Center towers; the centre had served about 40,000 lines in the building. It has emergency-operations staff monitoring its system and there have been no reported network failures.
By midafternoon Tuesday, Mr. Marchand said the congestion had begun to ease. Verizon on an average business day handles 115 million calls in New York and 35 million calls in Washington but was “on a pace to at least double that” in both cities, he said.
Sprint Corp., the No. 3 U.S. long-distance company, also had network equipment in one of the destroyed World Trade Center towers. The company did not say how many lines or customers were served by that equipment. “There's been some blocked calls, and calls are being rerouted,” said Sprint spokesman Mark Bonavia.
SBC Communications Inc., the primary Midwest local phone company, said it has beefed up security at its facilities. “This includes added network monitoring and appropriate safety measures for our employees,” the company said in a statement.
WorldCom Inc. had some network equipment in lower Manhattan. It could not immediately say what equipment might have been in the World Trade Center. Immediately after the first crash in New York, WorldCom saw a spike in calling volumes in the northeast corridor.
“Our network is secure and we are working under routine emergency operations to ensure our network continues to deliver service,” said WorldCom spokeswoman Linda Laughlin.
Several New York television stations had transmitters atop the destroyed World Trade Center buildings and are not able to reach viewers who lack cable or satellite TV service.
“We, along with the other major networks, have lost our transmitter, because there's no building there anymore,” said Bill Beam, director of engineering at WABC, a local TV station serving New York.
“If you don't have cable or satellite, you're not going to see Channel 7 WABC,” he said. “We're arranging for a transmitter to be installed.” About 75 per cent of New York residents subscribe to cable TV.