Phone service, 911 outages: ‘The perfect storm’

By Deb Murphy

Nate Greenberg, Mono County’s IT director, described the communication blackout March 23-24 as “the perfect storm,” some consolation to residents from Boron to Bridgeport left without a variety of communication tools, including 911, since perfect storms usually don’t occur with any regularity.

Greenberg explained what led up to the outage of AT&T, Verizon and Frontier at Tuesday’s Mono County Board of Supervisors meeting. A burned cable buried someplace between Helendale and Boron was the epicenter. Crews had to first find then fix the cable which took 24 hours, according to Greenberg.

The perfect part of this storm referred to Frontier’s redundancy, a radio link that was down being serviced.

Greenberg noted the lag time for notification: it took 45 minutes before 911 responders were notified and almost four hours before Frontier even found out their cable was fried. This outage was different than lesser outages, he said, because it impacted a regional router.

In an age where multiple services are provided by multiple companies, there was a mish-mash of outages that included everything from internet access, land lines and cell phones depending on where those services were. From south of Mammoth Lakes to north of Lee Vining, some cell phone service was available.

The key for that area was hook-ups to Digital 395, a connection Greenberg has been pushing on Frontier.

“The outage covered a 15,000 square mile area,” Mono Sheriff Ingrid Braun told both the Supervisors and Mammoth’s Town Council Wednesday evening. “If you took that area and laid it over Southern California, it would have been a disaster. We were lucky but it was a horrifying situation.”

Saturday morning, Braun’s first call was to Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, a reliable source of 911 emergencies on a busy ski weekend. Her message: all emergency calls were to be directed to the Sheriff’s land line. Apparently, nobody broke anything on the Mountains.

There are solutions, but none will happen quickly. Greenberg had been in touch with Frontier to build in some redundancy and a plan is in the works to tie into Digital 395 but that won’t help land line services. Greenberg told the Board Frontier is mid-stream in a three-stage plan to fortify its system.

Greenberg recently introduced a Joint Powers Agreement with emergency service providers to re-vamp the County’s communications system. A state-wide push to shore up 911 is still in transition, but the focus is on cell service.

Another fix is to look at routing services to the north; currently all routing is southbound.

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4 Responses to Phone service, 911 outages: ‘The perfect storm’

  1. Tin Cans and String April 12, 2019 at 6:48 am #

    So, the 911 emergency call system in this part of the world is totally dependent on and at the mercy of a two-bit, profit-motivated private phone company?

    Good job elected officials!

  2. Silver Spurs April 9, 2019 at 8:10 am #

    When Verizon ran the show the microwave radio backbone from Bishop to Victorville was up and running and properly maintained. If the fiber optic cable was cut then essential traffic would be diverted to the radio backbone. Since Frontier took over maintenance has been cut to the bone and I strongly suspect that the radio backbone had been neglected until it reach the state of being totally out of service. Frontier is having serious financial problems. The company stock has dropped from $120 a share to just over $2 a share in the last seven years. Cost cutting of equipment maintenance to save money eventually will bite you in the ass.

  3. Boone Doogle April 6, 2019 at 4:49 am #

    Digital 395 was supposed to prevent this.

    $120 million in public funds spent and the problem still exists.

    Digital 395 took care only of its governmental proponents.

    The public got screwed.

    Our government lied to us.

    I know, so what else is new?

    • erik simpson April 9, 2019 at 9:14 pm #

      Digital 395 works fine, and I’m not the government. One of the several problems is Frontier isn’t linked into it.


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