Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Backhoe disrupts Whitman, regional communications

On Friday, Jan. 23, the Whitman College campus experienced a loss of cell service and access to 911 after a fiber optic cable was cut by a backhoe operator. The severed cable disrupted communication in surrounding counties at approximately 2 p.m.  Collaboration between Campus Security, the Dean of Students Office and Whitman College Technical Services helped inform students, staff and faculty of the problem and eventually address lingering issues after most service was restored.

“This outage was caused by a backhoe operator in Franklin County digging without calling first to ensure that there were no critical structures below the surface,” said Walla Walla Public Safety Communications Manager Steven Ruley in an email to The Pioneer.

Campus Security was first to notice the problem at around 4 p.m. on Friday after staff members couldn’t reach one another by cell phone and confirmed the issue when the police scanner reported similar problems.

“I ran to the [Memorial] building to let someone in, came back, and [Officer John Delaney] said he tried to call me and see where I was at. We realized the phones were busy and I turned my iPad on to the [police scanner] and that’s when they started talking about the phone lines being down pretty much everywhere for their system ,” said Director of Security Matt Stroe.

Stroe immediately went to inform the President’s Office and Dean of Students Office of the problem, which prompted an email to all community members mentioning that cell and 911 services were unavailable and that Campus Security should be contacted by landline for campus emergencies. In response, Campus Security called in an additional staff member and utilized radios to ensure that they could effectively communicate without cell phones.

“The good thing is we did have staff we could call in at five o’clock that could sit here and man the desk while [someone else] went out and patrolled. If it had been extremely busy or if there were things going on, we would have called in on-call security officers to come and work and they each have radios … so we could all communicate with each other,” said Stroe.

While service was eventually restored after 10 p.m. on Friday, Whitman’s campus experienced difficulties through Sunday. Campus Security became aware of lingering problems just before 3 p.m. on Sunday after an email from a student who was unable to contact the security office via cell phone. This problem prompted another round of emails Sunday afternoon to update community members when the issue was noticed and when it was finally solved by Whitman College Technical Services after resetting Whitman’s phone system.

“The fiber was repaired and services restored sometime on Saturday, however, our internal phone system did not seem to ‘sync’ with the restored services immediately and needed to be reset.  Before the reset of our equipment, outbound calls … were working, but inbound calls … were not working.  After the reset, all service was restored,” said WCTS Chief Information Officer Dan Terrio in an email with The Pioneer.

In reflecting on the events of the weekend, Stroe was quick to laud the importance of the informative emails, as well as the reasonable response of community members to a somewhat random event.

“I think the students, and the faculty  and staff for that matter –– did a great job of keeping things calm and not getting too excited or upset with the issue when we really didn’t have a hand in the matter,” said Stroe.

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