Referring to it as a real wake-up call, Cook County Commissioner Bob Fenwick talked to WTIP about the effects of losing landline telephone, internet and cell phone communication for over 11 hours on Tuesday.
“I don’t know what caused the problem in Duluth but we do know what it caused up here,” said Fenwick. “As the county, we were basically out of business. Much of the day to day and minute to minute business done by the county is really dependent on this very sophisticated communications system.”
But Fenwick said the problem was more than just the interruption of county business.
“More importantly for the community,” he said, “businesses were basically down to not being able to do what they would normally do: credit cards, reservations, those kids of things. The economic impact was very critical.”
He added that the county has already gone through extensive planning for these kinds of emergencies and more will follow.
“We will be having many more conversations on this as the days go on, in terms of how do we make sure these kinds of things don’t happen,” Fenwick added. “Someone could have had a medical problem in an out-laying part of the county. We know the consequences of that.”
Fenwick said it was the role of government to address these consequences. “As public servants we don’t want to put our citizens in jeopardy.”
First responders were stationed throughout the county in fire halls, but Fenwick said if you didn’t know where to call, you were out of luck.
“Our world right now is when your Chicken McNuggets don’t come right, you call 911. That’s our world right now.”
Fenwick stressed the amount of prior planning in discussions on the broadband or fiber optic project and the need for redundancy in any such system. “We’ve said over and over again, if the line gets cut into Cook County we’re out of business. Until it happens you don’t feel the effects. It happened.”
The communications interruption was caused by a steam line in Duluth rupturing and melting a fiber optic main belonging to Quest Communications. Long distance phone and even portions of local calls, as well as Internet service was down in Lake and Cook Counties and parts of Duluth.