Landslide cuts communication to the Coastside

Updated 10:00pm

Posted by on Sun, April 23, 2006

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Montara.com
AT&T crews were on Highway 92 at Skyline Sunday afternoon to repair the cut in their fiber optic line to the Coastside
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Montara.com
AT&T is splicing around the break with new fiber optic cable.
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Montara.com
This is difficult work in heavy brush and poison oak. One of the crews was using a jackhammer.

Services have been restored on the Coastside after a landslide cut an AT&T fiber optic cable, disrupting communications on the Coastside from Montara to Pescadero. This report is compiled from reader reports as well as interviews and not everything here can be confirmed.

Landlines: It appears that few or no calls could be made to or from the Coastside, but that some calls were possible within the Coastside. Automatic teller service and credit card verification services were also disrupted.  Phone service began coming back at about 4pm. DSL was unavailable until about 8:30pm.

Cellular: Sprint and T-Mobile cellular service were disrupted. One reader reported that his Verizon cellular service was unavailable until 7am. Several readers found that they could get Cingular service near the junction of Highways 1 and 92 on Sunday afternoon, but not north or south of Half Moon Bay on Highway 1.

Comcast Internet: Television service was not disrupted, but as of Sunday night, Cable internet was not available and Comcast had told one customer that they would not call a technical crew until Monday morning.

The landslide—off Highway 92 at 10pm on Saturday night— took out an AT&T fiber optic cable to the Coastside. Sgt. John Gonzales of the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office says that the outage was in a location where AT&T couldn’t take heavy equipment, but crews hiked in to fix the problem.

AT&T installed a 100 to 150 foot temporary above-ground splice to the underground line west of Skyline and below the construction site at Skylawn Cemetary [Google satellite photo] according to one Coastsider who talked to the repair crew at about 3pm Sunday.

The Sheriff moved additional personnel to the Coastside last night and is engaging in "proactive policing". Deputies have been stationed publicly for emergency contact:

  • Montara at 8th Street and state Highway 1
  • Moss Beach at California Avenue and Highway 1
  • El Granada at Capistrano Street and Highway 1
  • Princeton at the Harbor Master’s Office at the Princeton Harbor
  • La Honda at the La Honda fire station at state Highway 84 and Entrada Way
  • Pescadero at Pescadero Creek Road and Stage Road

People who have cell phones and need emergency assistance should call (650) 363-4911 for police. For fire or ambulance service, people with cell phones can call (650) 363-4961.

Chris Carfi writes:

[The outage includes] two mobile phone networks (SprintPCS and T-Mobile) as well as our Coastside.net DSL.  Local SBC land line service continues to work, but calling outside the local calling area results in a "fast-busy" signal.  Calls within Half Moon Bay are connected normally for the most part, but any attempts to dial 800- or 888- service numbers were resulting in fast-busy signals as well.

Calls to the non-emergency line of the HMB Police Department also have resulted in busy signals for almost 12 hours, until 7:30 this morning.  We stopped by the HMB Police Department office at about 7:30, however the office was closed.  Outside the office is a phone to connect to HMBPD dispatch.  It too was giving a fast-busy signal.


Comment 1
Sun, April 23, 2006 12:41pm
Brian
All my comments

Verizon cell phone service just returned around 7am (thus my ability to post this response through their 1x data service - of course, it’s been coming and going since 1130am this morning).

Here are the questions I think all Coastsiders should be demanding answers to from the Half Moon Bay City Council and the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors:

1) Why does a fiber optic connection going over the hill take out 911 to our own local emergency services? This in and of itself is outrageously unacceptable and dangerous.

2) Why could no one reach local numbers for the HMB Police and Fire depts for over 9 hours (actually the numbers have been busy every time I’ve tried - including now around 12pm Sunday)? As a citizen, reading that no one was at the dispatch station this morning made me furious.

3) Why is there a single point of failure capable of taking out so many services at once?

4) Why did it take almost nine hours to even identify the source of the problem?

5) Why is such a critical resource even exposed to a landslide? Aren’t such cables underground?

6) Cell phones and 911 should have redundant links - one preferably via satellite. Why is it that Verizon is back now (sort of) but other carriers are not? If the fiber link is still out, why is it that Verizon is back at all (but I’m certainly grateful that they are)?

This and the business with Devil’s Slide has really driven home for me how woefully unprepared we are for any real disaster. I am flabbergasted that a single failure could disable 911 *and* cell phones - who is responsible for such a stupid design?

I fervently hope that none of our neighbors have suffered or will suffer because of this egregious lack of infrastructure.

This is beyond the frustrating and irritating way we Coastsiders are treated as second class citizens (from the abysmal roads to lack of FM and HDTV broadcasts and uniform availability of DSL). This goes to the very heart of the safety of our families. I am deeply grateful to law enforcement for putting out the extra patrols quickly - but frankly, I didn’t see anyone in my neighborhoods in El Granada and there was no information to be found.

I encourage everyone reading this to show up at the next meetings of the HMB City Council and San Mateo Supervisors. They need to hear from all of us en masse that this is *not* acceptable and that the situation needs to be addressed immediately.

Brian Dantes
El Granada, CA

We already knew that we were woefully prepared for emergencies on the coast.  Now we see that the descendant of Ma Bell can’t even establish a redundant communication network for our lonely outpost on the sea to maintain contact with the rest of the world when our road links are cut off.  The breakdown of 911 service is itself a disaster.

As our government (federal, state and local) continues to set priorities in the wrong places, and pays lip service to true homeland security, it must become our personal priority to put leaders in place who do take our personal safety seriously.  I agree with Brian - go early and often to City Council and Board of Supervisors meetings, call your legislators, and write to the PUC. 

Joe Falcone
from Santa Cruz where I could get on the Internet

Comment 3
Sun, April 23, 2006 5:52pm
Brian
All my comments

First and foremost, I would like to express my gerat appreciation for the service Coastsider.com provides. They were the first source of timely information for both the Devil’s Slide debacle and now this latest fiasco. Thank you!

All services except Comcast Internet returned by about 4pm Sunday afternoon. It’s 545pm now and I just spoke with Comcast - and they said they couldn’t even talk to their technical crews until normal business hours Monday! I don’t know why I continue to be surprised by the lack of service out here - you’d think I’d eventually get used to it.

If anyone in the “know” is reading this - I would greatly appreciate it if you could post a comment. And as long as we’re at it, can someone from Pacbell/SBC/ATT/whatever explain why El Granada is *still* waiting for DSL years after even Moss Beach and Montara got it? We’re the one pocket on the Coastside that doesn’t have it.


Brian Dantes
El Granada, CA

My cell phone is sprint pcs and it is still down as of 8:21PM Sunday night. My Dsl which I get through Sonic.net is also still down as of 8:21PM sunday night. I’m connected now with a dial up that has been working today since about noon.
Thank you Barry for being a becon of light through coastsider under these trying times of the last few weeks. Imagine if we had to rely on the HMB review for any immediate information. Yes, we will probably get some inaccurate summary wednesday, or Thursday, or even later.

2 notes on my service:

1. My Sprint PCS service came back midmorning on Sunday and has been working ever since.

2. My Comcast internet is still out as of Monday morning. I called them Sunday morning and again Sunday night, and both times they told me they were not aware of any outage in the area, and that it must be my modem or cable. They scheduled a service call to my house on Thursday. When I mentioned the general area outage due to the fiber optic line, they told me that did not affect them. Do they even know what’s going on?

As of Sunday night, T-mobile, SprintPCS and land lines (SBC) were all working fine.

On Sunday night, Coastside.net DSL was behaving interestingly…we had “sync” with the DSL provider (this is good) and encrypted traffic (e.g. a VPN tunnel and other encrypted services) were all working fine.  HOWEVER, on Sunday night, “normal” web browsing was not working.  (The irony: I was able to connect successfully to a server in Europe with no problem, but I couldn’t do a search on Google!).

I suspect that AT&T, SBC, and/or Coastside.net were blocking “normal” HTTP traffic while they were getting things up and running last night, which would explain why “unrecognizable” encrypted traffic worked fine, while normal traffic did not.

The good news: as of Monday morning, all services, including DSL, were working normally.

I can’t believe that there,s no redundent cable to provide comm service.If this is a sign of what,s going to happen during the big quake we are all in trouble.Putting a cable in a slid prone area is really swift.

I’m not a geologist, but it is my impression that the entire Coastside is a “slide-prone area”.

Before everybody jumps to conclusions that this event says something about our readiness for a “natural” disaster, it’s worth noting that the mudslide took place “below the construction site at Skylawn Cemetary.”

Did faulty construction work destabilize the hillside?

Many of us suffered the consequences of a cable being cut. It’s been shown that when it comes to major disaster readiness a fiber optic cable is at the bottom of our priority list. However, the truth is that for a few hours many of us suffered from incommunication anxiety, I confess that I did.

As a community we have to come to rely a great deal on “a cable”, therefore I’d expect that our local politicians do whatever needs to be done to protect our “cables” so that this does not happen again.

It’s completely unacceptable not being able to reach 911, make phone calls, access the internet,.... Thanks God that this was a minor event, what if….? I don’t want to even think about it, that’s why we have local politicians, don’t we? As a member of this community I expect them to do their jobs. As far as communications go the grade is FAILING, with an F…. come on guys, step up to the plate and deliver what you promised.

Manolo Fernandez
El Granada resident
<email>[email protected]</email>

Don’t feel so bad…on my 4th call to Comcast yesterday (obviously after my cell phone started working) for an estimated time of repair, I was told “This was a scheduled outage for some scheduled overnight update and maintenance.”  They also told me not to bother going to other areas of San Mateo since the Internet was down on the entire Peninsula - meaning - even over the hill. I can’t believe I pay over $40 a month for this level of poor service.

I am amazed at how dependant everyone has become to cell phones, the internet, and cable TV. I understand how important it is to be able to communicate. But we are dealing with mother nature and man made materials don’t forget mother nature will always prevail no matter how hard we try to work agents her. The issue with 911 is one that might need to be rethought but we as individuals need to take some responsibility and learn basic first aid, CPR and keep good first aid kit in our homes and cars. We should know by now that in times like this being prepared is everyone’s responsibility we should not rely on local governments to stand by with open arms (remember Katrina?). My point is for all of you who were upset by this day without communication thank god that’s all it was and not a natural disaster. Yesterday would have been a good opportunity to reconnect with our children, friends, families, or pets in person and not in front of the TV, while surfing the net, and talking on your cell phone.

Since cable was one of the few services working over the weekend…. seems like something, at least the temporary emergency numbers and law enforcement locations, should have been posted on Channel 6.

Comment 14
Mon, April 24, 2006 2:27pm
Brian
All my comments

The location of the slide made me suspicious of the construction work as well—and if they are at fault, I’m sure the lawsuits will flow. However, that’s not the point. No single point of failure, no matter the cause, should take out all communications in one fell swoop. This is simply an embarrassingly horrible design.

Brian Dantes
El Granada, CA

Time for a reality check.  The REVIEW?  Good name for the paper since most of what they do is review old dated news and post recycled releases on the web site!  MCTV? If it’s not a city council meeting from three weeks ago, forget it!  The ONLY reason I had any information is because my Coastsider news alert was forwarded to my blackberry during a brief moment of cell activity. Do any of the staff of the Review or MCTV actually live here on the coast so that they know what’s going on over the weekends? I wrote to the Open -line suggesting that they pay attention to what Coastsider is doing, and step up their game, but I’m sure you’ll never see it in the “letters to the editor” section.  Coastsider deserves yet another round of applause for running circles around both local and county “media”.  I’m not sure what type of awards are out there for local journalism, but we should all be nominating Barry for his outstanding service to our community.

I finally have some use for my ham radio!!!! If anyone wants to communicate after the next disaster they can just write down their message on a slip of paper and leave it at my door!!.  I’ll transmitt it in morse code to the civil war re-enactment troop who can hand it off to the model train people who will carry it to some of my old D and D buddies from college and it will get there for sure !!!

oh yeah, I forgot to say that it was really nice having no phone on sunday.  Maybe we could get it turned off every sunday and cancel driving too. Hand out flare guns if anyone needs 911 - though fox hunting horns might do the trick too and put us in a proper sunday mood. We could actually have a fox hunt too as long as I get to yell: “release the hounds… ” (and we don’t really kill any foxes either). (I hope that was a proper use of quotation marks)

P.S. I hope people watch their use of quotation marks; I think they are a little “out of control” in some of the “comments”.

It would have been nice to turn on our TV to local channel 6 MCTV that was still on the air & find out what was going on during the comm failure. Instead of running a constant boring video loop.
Is it that much trouble to send someone down to the Channel 6 transmiting studio & give us updates. What are we paying out of our cable bill for, ads.

Iridium Satellite Phones are cheap, a little over a $1000 will buy you a base model phone. Maybe each community along the coast should club together and buy one (one in Montara, El Granada, Moss Beach etc), a few dollars a household would do it. This phone should then be entrusted to a community member whom is made known to everyone in that community and shared between all the other communities, worst case would be having to hike a couple of blocks to get to it or if needed on behalf of a less mobile neighbor. The Sheriff would be supplied one by the County. In the event of a serious natural disaster (or another mudslide on 92) we would have open lines of communication to the Sheriff, local Emergency services and the outside world. It would not take much organization and would at least give us a lifeline when and if needed. It beats stationing patrol cars along the road.

My Observations:

(1) Comcast Internet service at my location in Montara was interrupted (for remote sites) at 8:19 p.m. on Saturday, April 22 - nowhere close to the 10 p.m. time claimed for the landslide in some reports.

(2) Our T1 service went out at the same time.

(3) Regular land-line telephone service was spotty, sometimes successful, sometimes fast-busy to the same number. Local calls within Montara went through fine. Calls from the outside came through fine, too (but I don’t know if there were unsuccessful attempts that got a “circuits busy” because the trunks were overloaded).

(4) Cell service via Cingular showed “No signal” at our home in Montara.

(5) Comcast’s outstanding Technical Support at their fine 800 number, reached about 20 minutes after the outage began, claimed there was no general problem and it must be my “old” cable modem. I was told to power cycle my modem (the same thing they ALWAYS tell me) and that the problem was my fault, not theirs.

(6) Comcast reported DNS errors for every attempt to reach an Internet site, including local sites (such as montara.com).

(7) Comcast’s cable TV service worked fine.

General Comments:

(1) If you are not technically savvy, you might not have realized there was a problem at all. Those who are not regular Internet users and who did not have reason to try to call outside the coast (or who did and didn’t realize the permanent busy or fast-busy was a symptom of a problem) may have been blissfully unaware there was anything wrong. This is a DANGEROUS condition if these people happened to face an emergency and depended on 911 service.

(2) Landslides - and the closure of Highways 1 and 92 - are EXPECTED and PREDICTABLE results of the next major earthquake. The next major earthquake near us will also generate a tsunami (although probably a very small one).

(3) After our next major catastrophe, there will be interruptions to electrical, gas, water, sewer, and other utilities (that means cable TV, too). An earthquake will start numerous fires throughout the community. We MUST be able to call for emergency response (or at least to identify where the fires are, and where structures have failed trapping people inside). Therefore a dependable 911 is essential, OR the local direct-dial numbers for emergency services must be publicized and etched into everyone’s brain. (The entire purpose of 911 is to avoid having to keep all those numbers handy, remember?)

(4) Water supplies will be needed for firefighting and should not be counted on for domestic use. Possible main breaks or other failures might require usage restrictions or a “boil water” order, and we must have a mechanism for alerting the community. Montara Water and Sanitary District’s notification system depends on telephone circuits to the outside world for this process.

(5) The world is going increasingly to cell phones and portable computing devices with Internet capabilities. These new technologies failed the worst in this situation. These networks must be improved to exceed the reliability and resiliency that we have always taken for granted from the old Ma Bell systems.

Recommendations:

(1) Land-line or cellular 911 calls MUST fail over to a local emergency service provider that has radio or uninterruptible service to the outside world, probably the Moss Beach Sheriff’s Substation or Half Moon Bay Police or Half Moon Bay Fire. Or to 363-4911, if 363-4911 is the dedicated number that is guaranteed to work even when all connections to the outside world are cut off. (How would this be possible, exactly? Doesn’t this number just look like a foreign exchange to our coastside central offices, and get routed over the same trunk lines that failed so often to get calls out?)

(2) Cellular phone carriers must be required to provide switching capability within the Coastside when we are cut off from the mainland. This condition will occur again!

(3) All Internet Service Providers on the coast need a local Domain Name Server as an alternate, so that attempts to look up web pages for MWSD, HMB Fire, Coastsider, etc., are successful. The County has the power, through their franchise agreement with Comcast, to impose this requirement. Pacbell.net and Coastside.net and other ISPs may need to be persuaded through other means.

(4) Local emergency service agencies need a way to allow communication via Internet or email, as well as by telephone (again, this requires LOCAL servers to support LOCAL agencies, and a DNS here on the coast). Those agencies also need to plan status updates on their web sites, and to communicate to the local population what to do when the next emergency hits.

(5) As other commenters have noted, as individuals and as members of our community, we need to expect to be self-reliant as much as possible. But the major hazard following the next earthquake - fires that burn out of control - can only be handled by trained firefighters and trained volunteers with adequate equipment and plenty of water. The economic loss scenarios recently publicized during the 100th Anniversary of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire estimated $122 BILLION from structure and infrastructure failures, plus perhaps $30 billion more in lost economic productivity by businesses in the immediate aftermath. And that is assuming NO CONFLAGRATIONS. But experience shows that EVERY major earthquake is followed by fires, and that weather conditions are the main determinant in whether they spread out of control or can be contained.

(5) Stop pretending that we are well-prepared for the next emergency, and actually invest some funds in better preparedness.

[Note: My comments regarding MWSD are made as an individual Board Member and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the entire Board or the District.]