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Telecomm outage rattles public, but emergency services keep humming

A telecommunications outage hit the Waynesville area last Thursday evening, knocking out cell phones, TV, Internet and even landlines for thousands of residents.

“One by one, across the county people are realizing on their own that they have no cellular services or voice or data communication tool,” said Greg Shuping, the Haywood County Emergency Services Director.

The outage was specific to Verizon Wireless and Charter Cable, but those two companies alone represent a huge portion of the telecommunication system relied on by the masses. 

For Verizon cell phone customers who have jettisoned their landlines, or for those who use Charter landline service — coupled with an outage of Charter TV and Internet — it was like being in the Dark Ages, a surreal and scary place for some.

“It is a weird feeling to rely on a daily tool and then take it away. It drives home the big picture of preparedness,” Shuping said. 

As the emergency management director, Shuping was prepared for just this eventuality. The county has a back-up service provider for its 911 call center and dispatch system — known as “duplication” or “redundancy.” Should one service provider get knocked out, the county can switch over to its other service provider. While its an extra monthly cost, it’s worth it.

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“We have a mission, and that is to save lives and save property. We realize that is a big commitment, but the citizens out there in Haywood County are depending on us for their lives if they have an emergency,” Shuping said.

But with so many lacking a way to call 911 in the first place, the county set another plan in motion to make emergency help as accessible as possible. A call was put out to every volunteer fire department in the county asking people to man their stations, providing safe houses around the county. If people could get to the closest fire station, from there they could get help, Shuping said.

As for what caused the outage? That remains a mystery, given the silence coming from Verizon and Charter on the issue. The leading rumor involves a wreck in Canton. A truck pulling a backhoe on a trailer apparently clipped a telephone pole.

“He kept going and he drug down three telephone poles and all the lines that went with them,” said Canton Police Captain Carroll Greene. In Canton, power went out as well. But did that one wreck wreak that much havoc? Greene is skeptical and thinks a line must have been cut somewhere else, too.

“I think that it might be a crazy coincidence that these happened at the same time,” Greene said. 

— By Staff writer Becky Johnson

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