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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, October 26, 2001

Accidental cable slice silences 200,000 phones

By Curtis Lum
Advertiser Staff Writer

A Verizon telephone worker accidentally cut a fiber cable in Kalihi yesterday, setting off a chain reaction that resulted in the most widespread phone failure in the Islands in recent years.

About 120,000 telephone customers in Kalihi and Kailua had sporadic service for more than seven hours. On Maui, 80,000 Verizon customers could not make off-island calls, and often even local calls would not go through.

But telephone calls weren't the only service cut off yesterday. Many computers hooked up to the Internet by phone were silenced and nearly half of First Hawaiian Bank's automated teller machines were out of service for several hours.

The problem began at about 9 a.m. when a Verizon technician accidentally sliced a fiber cable, said Verizon spokeswoman Ann Nishida. It was not known if the employee was working on the line when it was sliced.

Nishida said that because of a complicated network of circuits, service problems involved Kalihi and Kailua on O'ahu, as well as all of Maui. Many residents were able to call within their areas, but got busy signals or recorded messages when they tried to call other prefixes.

"We treated (the O'ahu and Maui incidents) as two separate problems. But as we were troubleshooting it throughout the day, we were able to trace the problem to that Kalihi fiber cut," Nishida said. She said she could not recall an outage of this scope in several years.

An investigation into how the cable was cut will be conducted, she said.

"A lot of times, we have problems with outside contractors cutting our cables when they dig in the ground. But this is highly unusual, that this was done in our own office," Nishida said. "We sincerely regret this error, and we apologize for any inconvenience to our customers."

Verizon crews rerouted calls to other cables as they repaired the spliced cable. Telephone service to all customers was restored at about 4:30 p.m.

The outage caused some problems for residents in the affected areas who tried to call the 911 emergency line.

Honolulu Police Department spokeswoman Michelle Yu said residents reported calling several times before getting through. She said a Kalihi resident also was delayed in requesting an ambulance, but police were not aware of any other serious problems caused by the outage.

On Maui, county spokeswoman Karlynn Kawahara said the 911 emergency response system was down in Hana from about 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Radio stations ran announcements saying residents should call the police and fire stations directly in case of emergency.

Kawahara also said phones at the Wailuku county building weren't working for external calls during that four-hour period as well.

"It was totally frustrating and annoying," said Steven Woodard, a financial consultant with Spelman & Co. in Makawao.

While the phone problems didn't affect the key New York stock market trading period, Woodard said his phones were out for three hours, starting at about 10 a.m. He said he couldn't call clients in the state and was able to make Mainland calls only by using his Sprint cellular phone.

The Maui Visitors Bureau Visitor Information Center — the agency's tourist call center on Moloka'i — was crippled for 27 minutes.

Toni Rojas, the bureau's director of sales, said probably only a handful of incoming calls were affected because the problem occurred past the peak calling period for Mainland tourists seeking information.

But MVB operators were also prevented from making outgoing calls during that period, she said.

First Hawaiian Bank's operations center is in Kalihi and the outage knocked out half of its ATM machines statewide. Customers also were not able to do any banking by phone until service was restored at about lunchtime, said bank spokesman Gerry Keir.

Keir said bank branches have backup systems that were not affected.

Advertiser staff writer Tim Hurley contributed to this report.