Lake County acts to prevent another phone outageby Bob Kelleher, Minnesota Public Radio
Duluth, Minn. — Lake County officials are making plans to avoid the widespread communications outage that hit two weeks ago when a fiber optic line in Duluth was severed.
In the event of a similar outage, Lake County Emergency Management Coordinator B.J. Kohlstedt is recommending installing satellite communications capacity at the Lake County courthouse and compiling a list of places with satellite internet capability, which the county could rely on if phone connections die.
She also recommends emergency managers get licensed as HAM radio operators and develop better coordination with the region's amateur radio operators.
Kohlstedt said the outage was a wake up call.
"Many of us were surprised by the different technologies that were connected to fiber optics," he said. "For example, people assumed that their cell phones would work because they're wireless. Well, cell phones go to tower repeaters and then the repeaters are connected by fiber optics."
The broken line in Duluth cut internet, cell phone, long distance and emergency 911 calls to Lake and Cook County for nearly 12 hours.
"We all know that we are dependent upon communications technology, but I think we were surprised at how intricate these connections are," Kohlstedt said.
Meanwhile, Lake County continues pursuing county-wide broadband service that could survive a line break, and county officials are discussing a separate project with Qwest and Frontier Communications to provide additional fiber optic capacity.