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Damage to undersea cable leads to widespread communication outages

Services have been restored via other cables, and a repair ship is deployed to fix the breakage.

Damage to an underwater fiber optic cable belonging to Alaska Communications lead to outages of a wide swathe of telecom functionality across Southeast Alaska on Thursday.

ACS has mobilized a repair vessel to identify and fix the problem, said Heather Cavanaugh, director of external affairs and corporate communications for ACS.

“We experienced an internet, voice and data outage in Southeast Alaska that started a little after 1 p.m., April 29,” Cavanaugh said in an email. “We identified an issue with one of our two subsea fiber optic cables. It’s uncommon for cables to have problems, but it does happen from time to time. For example, an underwater landslide damaged one of our subsea cables a number of years ago. We are still working to determine the root cause of the damage.”

[Lumberman scuttling on weather hold for now]

During that time, residents in Juneau, Klawock, Sitka, Thorne Bay, Ketchikan and Kake were affected, Cavanaugh said. Included in that was the 911 services to Juneau, said Juneau Police Department public safety manager Erann Kalwara in an email. Work at the Alaska State legislature was put on hold Thursday afternoon, and the University of Alaska Southeast virtual commencement ceremony was delayed from Friday, April 30 to 3 p.m. on Sunday, May 2.

“We do have redundant (T1) circuits coming into JPD but this outage was so significant that we lost connectivity between the ACS Central Office and all 911 workstations at the JPD site,” Kalwara said. “We were able to send a dispatcher to our backup facility at (Capital City Fire/Rescue) Station 1. She logged in and began answering 911 calls immediately using a laptop. It took almost an hour from the time the outage started to the time we took our first 911 call at Station 1.”

JPD is currently maintaining extra dispatchers on shift to ensure functionality while the malfunction is triaged and treated. Cavanaugh said ACS is working on ensuring that 911 functionality isn’t affected by similar problems in the future. In the meantime, ACS is working to isolate and repair the break.

“We always perform a root-cause analysis, fix the problem and take steps to reduce the risk of it happening again,” Cavanaugh said. “We have a ship deployed to repair the cable and it will likely take days to repair. In the meantime, we rerouted traffic onto other fiber optic cables so our customers have service.”

The City and Borough of Juneau also put out a notice, alerting residents that some utility customers would receive multiple identical bills while others would not be initially receiving any. CBJ was resending all bills by the end of business on April 30. Customers should disregard extra copies if they receive them, according to the city, and bills would be arriving shortly if they didn’t receive any.

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at (757) 621-1197 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.

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