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Telephone Outage in Nebraska -- No April Fool's Joke

04/05/2010

Early on the morning of Thursday, April 1, almost 40,000 people -- including Lincoln's government, business and emergency centers -- in Southeastern Nebraska found out that they had no landline telephone service, as well as spotty cell phone coverage, thanks to an equipment malfunction at a Lincoln switching facility owned by Windstream Communications. According to news reports, residents of 12 counties were unable to contact 911 and dispatch centers had to provide other ways to report emergencies -- including Amateur Radio.

According to ARRL Nebraska Section Manager Art Zygielbaum, K0AIZ, Lancaster County Emergency Management Director Doug Ahlberg, activated the Amateur Radio "Y2K Plan" shortly after the switching facility went down. "This plan places hams at prominent intersections and, if need be, public emergency service locations throughout the city," Zygielbaum told the ARRL. "Since there was no 911 service in the city, the Lincoln-Lancaster Emergency Operations Center was activated. ARRL Lancaster County Emergency Coordinator Reynolds Davis, K0GND, assigned hams to the EOC and 15 major intersections around the city. Emergency bulletins on television and radio stations carried information about where hams were stationed and let the citizens know that the hams could help citizens obtain emergency services. The hams also watched out for vehicle accidents and obstructions to traffic."

Zygielbaum said that this is the fourth time that the "Y2K Plan" has been used. "It was originally established in anticipation of the loss of communications at the end of the last century. Earlier activations were due to localized loss of communications at dispatch centers."

According to The Lincoln Journal Star, Windstream had updated the switch and its backup eight hours earlier, said Brad Hedrick, vice president and general manager of Windstream in Nebraska. Three other switches already had been updated and another was updated at the same time as the ones that failed, he said. There were no problems with those four switches. "This is a pretty major issue for us and we're working to resolve it," he said Thursday morning.

911 Center Communications Manager Julie Righter told the Journal Star that by early Thursday afternoon, landline 911 service for Windstream customers in Lancaster County had been restored, but cellular and other landline service into 911 still was not working at 10 PM. Service was restored to the entire region by 11:20 Thursday night.

According to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, 911 service was out for all or part of Thursday in Butler, Seward, Saunders, Clay, Adams, northern Gage, Jefferson, Cass, Saline, Richardson and Fillmore counties, as well as Lancaster. Systems in Nuckolls, Thayer and Pawnee might also have been affected.

Zygielbaum told the ARRL that by the time telephone service was restored, "62 Amateur Radio operators had devoted a good part of the day to ensure the safety of the people of Lincoln."



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