Thursday, November 7, 2013

In The Dark

The entire County is suffering from the effects of a break in the optical cable running from Lopez Island to San Juan Island. San Juan Island is hardest hit, with widespread phone and internet outages. At least Orcas and Lopez have internet. Sources say that the cable fault lies 5,000 feet off of Fisherman Bay between Lopez and San Juan Island. Sources also say that repairs may take 3 weeks or more. CenturyLink is not committing to a timetable for repair. It may require the laying of a whole new cable rather than a simple repair of a damaged section of cable. Apparently, the break did not occur because of a dragged anchor or something similar. The cause is believed to be the result of wear and tear from currents ... tidal and otherwise.

Kudos to the San Juan County Library, the Bean, Rock Island, and others who are sharing their Wi-Fi capability ... kudos also to Ham radio operators, Fire & EMS ... and to islanders generally, who are helping one another with neighborliness and grace.

Thumbs down, however, to the County Office of Emergency Management, to CenturyLink, and to our elected officials who have provided precious little information ... and even less leadership. Why isn't CenturyLink on TV saying that they will be working 24-hours a day until this issue is resolved? Why aren't our elected leaders or the County Office of Emergency Management on radio and TV saying that they will do everything possible to get San Juan County open for business again? When a bridge collapsed in Skagit County, the Governor declared a state of emergency and it was a major topic of discussion at our Council.  But vital communications for business (and life) go down for an indefinite period of time ... and we hear practically nothing?

And there are a lot of unanswered questions, like why is Orcas affected if the break is between San Juan Island and Lopez Island. For that matter, why is Lopez affected at all?

We're in the dark in more ways than one.


  1. The past few days I've seen Dave Halloran busting his butt, as both the county's assistance director of Emergency Management, and as a volunteer firefighter with Orcas Island Fire and Rescue.

    My understanding is that his boss, Brendan Cowan, the county's Emergency Management Director, was off-island, in another state, when communications went out. Nonetheless I heard Brendan organizing the response between islands, with a patchwork of communications link.

    I saw Rick Hughes late last night at the Orcas fire hall, heading out into the weather to go door-to-door, along with other community and OIFR volunteers, to contact people and let them know how to get in touch with emergency services. I also saw several Orcas Port Commissioners there doing the same.

    I'd be happy to sit down with the author and give him a blow-by-blow of what I have observed during the response to this situation from our elected officials, our staff, our volunteers, and our fellow community members. It is not generally in accordance with the criticism thrown out above.

    As to Centurylink, I think you could throw a lot more mud at them, and it would stick.

    Do not forget OPALCO - their professionalism, skill, training, willingness to pitch in, and problem-solving skills were superb. We are lucky to have them.

  2. I too have seen EMS and Fire working their butts off, but information flow to the public has been awful. If you are outside the loop of the emergency services, you have no idea what is happening or how long this will last.

    Getting in touch with emergency services is one thing, and a very high priority. However, if you run a business or work remotely from home, every day of downtime is important too. Better make alternative plans because this isn't going to be over quickly. It would be nice if someone "in the know" would just say that. Dialing 911 is very important, but being able to fill orders and talk to customers is important too. Livelihoods are at stake.

  3. This is the first that I've heard that this might last weeks. Holy smokes.

  4. CenturyLink's people have repeatedly told me that we are a stepchild "legacy" phone system that CneturyLink refuses to invest in. They can parade before Council talking how great they are but this--THIS--is exactly how CenturyLink is. Too big to fail, in a business sense. How old was that cable? As old and bad as our on island wiring? It was probably laid at the turn of the century--the LAST Century--like 1900.

    And nice to hear the CenturyLink talking heads not even apologizing.

    Perhaps we can get Rogers to take over our County telephone service? Or OPALCO? Heck, given how well we come together as a community, we should start our own telephone company.

  5. Weeks? Weeks? I love that the press release from Century Link touts it as such a big, moneymaking machine. Yes, they are that stupid, or arrogant.

    Our Council needs to look at what is now a serious safety issue with Century Link. It was already an economic problem. Can't OPALCO carry telephone? Why can't we use them?

  6. 911 is obviously critical, but frankly, the greater impact on my life over the last few days is missed conference calls and other important communications with my business associates. That hurts. It really does. If this goes on for weeks, that's a big problem for me, and I'd like to know sooner rather than later. Might be time to just pack up and leave until this is all over.

  7. Our EMS guys are great. There's more to this situation than EMS though.

  8. I agree with Brian that kudos should be extended to OPALCO too. We're lucky to have them because CenturyLink is hopeless. OPALCO's website has decent information also. Not great info, but at least some info.

  9. I also agree with Brian. I've had internet the whole time and have been getting the frequent updates from DEM there. There are signs on the road posted with emergency information on Orcas, many door to door knockers, neighbors checking on neighbors, etc. Mike Green from Rock Island was the first one out of the gate posting information on facebook and has certainly stepped up to help his community. My email is pretty full of updates from Orcas Fire and Opalco. I haven't talked to anyone who has heard from Centurylink, or Sprint, or actually expects to...Complain all you want, but understand that no one has a crystal ball and everyone is dealing with the situation in real time.

  10. Folks should check out the FB page of the Department of Emergency Management.

    It gives a blow by blow of what is being done, but in my view, that is not useful communication. I do NOT want Verizon repairmen to kill themselves trying to get me cell phone service. I do not expect councilmen to come to my front door. I do expect somebody to estimate how long this outage will last though. That seems like a small request. TH is the first place where I've seen an estimate that seems credible. I'm not happy about 3 weeks, but at least I feel like someone is passing along useful information for the first time.

    Thank you TH.

  11. OPALCO comes to the aid of Century link. No one from ether group is working for free.
    We pay our electric and phone bills, which should include infrastructure maintenance. Some how the electric and light cooperative has been spending our money on communication and Century link wishes the islands would just sink under the Salish Sea.
    I thought this was a rural county. Do the chickens not get fed unless they e-mail or call from their cell phone? What's the world coming to if a farmer has to check on their livestock in person every morning and every night.
    If you have a fear of tipping over in the woods or in your front yard and not being able to get cell phone reception. Well maybe you could search for a safer harbor.
    Me. I cant think of a more noble ending than being sustenance for the vultures and eagles. Though I must admit that I am not in a huge hurry to do so.
    Some wish to make these islands something they are not.

  12. If we have to rely solely on CenturyLink, it will almost certainly take weeks. If a solution is worked out any quicker than that, it will involve the tremendous efforts of OPALCO working in concert with others in our community to create a fix on the fly.

    I think some of the information dearth stems from not wanting to bad mouth CenturyLink too much.

    Serious question - doesn't somebody, such as the Council or the State, have to declare an emergency in order for permits and other requirements to be waived or expedited for the laying of new cable? If CenturyLink really has to put down new cable, they have to jump through some regulatory hoops, don't they? Unless an emergency is declared?

  13. What the hell is micro-wave for? And I don't mean stoves.

    Doesn't OPALCO have a wireless link between San Juan and Lopez, in part due to an inability to cut a deal with CenTel to share their now defunct underground cable?

    If I am recalling correctly, what does it take to re-route traffic to the existing OPALCO wireless link between those islands?

    Maybe Kevin the Ocean Hero can help.

  14. I don't agree with Brian. I think he's missing an important point. Things are not working right in way the county is responding to this. There is no daily briefing to the press or other central clearing house for information. Being told to shut up and be grateful because officials are busting their butts being superb doesn't cut the mustard.

    Yes, we're grateful, okay? Yes, people are busting their butts, okay? The county is still doing very badly in some very basic emergency response areas. Saying there shouldn't be any criticism over having poor information is where I completely disagree with Brian.

  15. The county should be issuing press releases EVERY DAY until this is over to give citizens the latest. They should pull together information from OPALCO, CenturyLink, DEM, EMS, and others and release the latest information EVERY DAY.

    Brian, if you are privy to this information, please post it here every day so we know. No one else is going to give daily updates.

    I know DEM and OPALCO have been giving out information on their websites. We need ONE PLACE to serve as the outlet for the latest information EVERY DAY. We need to allow the press to ask questions of that central contact EVERY DAY.

  16. Cyrus Field the FirstNovember 8, 2013 at 8:50 AM

    I agree that many people do not have access to the information that Brian has; maybe worse on Lopez and San Juan than Orcas where things seem pretty organized, principally due to Fire Dept & OPALCO and volunteer staff work.

    Certainly our Emergency Planning people need to start looking at how this happened and how it could be prevented next time.

    The first I heard of the outage was on Facebook, and NOT the County. Without Facebook and other unofficial outlets, we'd have been in the dark for another 24 hours.

    Anyone know what CenturyLink is telling people trying to call us? Is there a recording stating that CL has had a service outage? Or are the callers left to wonder whether we haven't paid our bills or moved or gone out of business?

  17. @ 11:42 no one has a crystal ball

    Agreed, but two groups are supposed to: CenturyTel is supposed to know the shape of its equipment and one would think have a repair team and spare cable at hand.

    Emergency Management needs to review the status of this utility that we all so depend on, and determine whether it is serving the important function we pay it to.