Technology helps deal with emergencies after fiber optic line goes down

by CINDY M. CRANMER

With the help of technology, emergency calls were offline for only a brief period of time after a fiber optic line was cut Monday, according to officials.

Working with the National Weather Service, Kent County Emergency Dispatch officials were able to notify area residents of a fiber optic problem that was affecting emergency dispatch calls in some areas.

Cell phone users and computer users that have emergency alerts on their phones or through e-mail learned that there was a fiber optic problem that caused affecting landlines in the Grattan Township area on Monday, April 23. Calls from a landline were not able to go through to the emergency dispatch center.

An alert was sent out notifying people that landlines were not able to call 911 and to use a cell phone or to connect with the local fire departments.

Grattan Township officials said a fiber optic line was cut, affecting people with a 691 prefix.

Kent County dispatchers say the problem was fixed as of Tuesday morning, April 24. Phone calls were being rerouted, according to Grattan Township officials, even before the original fiber optic line was fixed. Calls were being rerouted to the fire departments and then to the dispatch center.

Ionia County dispatchers also had a problem with landline phones in the Orleans area of 761 on Monday. That problem also has now been resolved.

Montcalm County dispatchers were reporting some problems Tuesday, April 24 with cellular phone service in the Greenville area that could be linked to the landline problems in Kent and Ionia counties.

While cell phone users in the Greenville and Belding areas were having problems making phone calls Monday night, those in Kent County’s Grattan Township area were still able to use cell phones to call 911.

The landline phones were the only ones having problems.

Officials said the lines were being worked on and rerouted before the problem was even fixed. Therefore, there was no major disruption of service calls because of the speed in which technology was able to be utilized to reroute calls to area fire departments.

The alerts sent out from the National Weather Service also recommended calling or going to the local fire department if someone could not get through to emergency dispatch and did not have a cell phone.

Cable officials said fiber optic lines breaking often can be rerouted through another cable before they are repaired. If a fiber optic cable is broken, it means something has gone through the protective cable coatings and then broke the glass to make the network go down.

A fiber optic network is a hose with glass fibers that light bounces through and data is modulated, turning it into signals at each end. Several layers of coating protect fibers from things such as tree branches, but the impact of some items can break the glass. It is not clear exactly what happened causing Monday’s outage.

Since glass does not break cleanly but shatters, it often takes more than a slice to fix. Therefore, rerouting calls over another fiber optic cable can happen before the original network is fixed.

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