Remembering the Great Telco Fire, May, 1988

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It was Mother's Day, Sunday, May 8, 1988, the day that Illinois Bell
caught fire and burned down in Hinsdale, Illinois.
Below are issues of the Digest during May, 1988 which specifically
commented on the Illinois Bell/Hinsdale, IL fire on May 8, 1988 which
caused extensive damage to phone service in northern Illinois during
May/June, 1988.

Service was largely restored by the end of May. The digests below are
only the ones immediatly afterward. An occassional article appeared
during June as well.

TELECOM Digest                            Tuesday, May 10, 1988 8:04PM
Volume 8, Issue 75

Today's Topics:

               Re: (none) (really Maryland +1 dialing)
               Continuously Ringing Telephone (on VHF)
                   Submission for comp-dcom-telecom
                      Running out of area codes
                          Re: "Party" lines
                       Chicago telco disaster?
                            "Party Lines"


 Subject: Chicago telco disaster?
 Date: 10 May 88 16:40:10 GMT

I have been trying to call an exchange in Chicago for the past two days
to no avail.  A recording states that "Due to local telephone company
problems in the area you are calling, your call cannot be completed.
Please try again later".  After a few calls to the AT&T operator and
their long distance repair number, I finally found out that an
Illinois Bell building serving the Chigago area caught fire and there
was serious damage.  I'm told that hundreds of exchanges are affected. (!!)
Calls via MCI, Sprint, etc. also came up with similar results, just
different recordings.  From what I understand, Ill. Bell is working on
the re-routing of calls through the office that burned, and service
*may* be restored by Wednesday.
Anyone else have any info. regarding this?  Is this similar to the
fire that hit the CO in New York City a couple years ago?  I thought
that disasters like these were preventable to a large extent by using
halon and other measures...  How can something of this degree occur
with relatively modern equipment?  Enough questions, I'm just curious..

A posting to this newsgroup would probably be most appropriate for
discussion.  Thanks for sharing!

David M. Kurtiak
UNC - Greensboro
UUCP:     dmkdmk@ecsvax.UUCP  !mcnc!ecsvax!dmkdmk


TELECOM Digest                           Tuesday, May 10, 1988 10:36PM
Volume 8, Issue 76

Today's Topics:

                    Central Office Fire in Chicago
                            The Great Fire
             Re: Continuously Ringing Telephone (on VHF)


 Subject: Central Office Fire in Chicago
 Date: Sun May  8 21:13:57 1988

A fire Sunday, May 8 caused severe damage at the Illinois Bell switching
center in Hinsdale, IL. Hinsdale is a western suburb of Chicago. As of
this posting (11:00 PM Central time) the entire center is off-line, and
nearly one hundred thousand subscribers in the west suburban area served
from the Hinsdale office are without phone service. There is no estimate
at this time as to when service to the affected communities will be

The Hinsdale office is also responsible for communications relating to air
traffic control between Midway and Ohare Airports in Chicago and the FAA
Center in Aurora, IL. Consequently, voice communications between control
locations which depended on landline phones has been severely disrupted.
Many airlines whose reservation systems are located in other cities also
have foreign exchange service through the Hinsdale office, and this has
been halted.

The fire was struck about an hour after it started, but damage estimates
are not yet available, nor specific plans made for the restoration of
service to the affected area.

Another update will be posted as soon as I have specifics. You can hear
more precise reports by calling the internal employee newsline at the
General Headquarters Building --
           The Illinois Bell Communicator - 312-368-8000

Calls to the affected area at the present time are being intercepted with
a recording 'all circuits are busy now'.


 Subject: The Great Fire
 Date: Mon May  9 23:19:29 1988

In my earlier posting, details were very sparce and I was unable to be
specific in describing the disaster which struck us here over the weekend.
I now have a more detailed accounting for the net --

An extra alarm fire broke out Sunday, May 8 at 5:30 PM in the Illinois Bell
Central Office, 120 North Lincoln Avenue, Hinsdale, Illinois. At the time
of the fire, the Chicago area, and the west suburbs in particular, were
experiencing a very bad electrical storm. There had been a great deal of
lightning; rain was quite heavy, and winds were about 40 miles per hour.

Fire Departments from 15 nearby communities battled the blaze before bringing
it under control at about 8:30 PM. The fire was officially struck at 11:30 PM
Sunday night. Deemed the worst disaster in the history of Illinois Bell, and
one of the worst disasters ever in the telephone industry, the fire virtually
gutted the two story building.

The Hinsdale central office is a *major* switching center for the west
suburban area. In addition to serving ten prefixes covering various
communities including Oak Brook, Westmont, Darien, Hinsdale and others,
the office housed the Directory Assistance Data Base for downstate Illinois;
it served as the communications apex for air traffic control between Ohare,
Midway, and the Aurora, IL aviation center; it was the headquarters for a
majority of the cellular phone service in the greater Chicago area; *and*
it handled long distance calls in and out of most of Dupage County, Will
County and southern Cook County.

        *And the office is now almost gutted*

The reason for the fire has not been detirmined, but fire department officials
have reason to believe the building was struck by a tremendous bolt of
lightning during the worst of the electrical storm which was in progress when
the first fire alarms were called in at 5:30 PM.

The fire caused another problem: the emission of toxic fumes which required
the evacuation of several blocks of homes in the vicinity. These fumes came
from batteries described as 'highly toxic' which were stored in the premises
and a large amount of fiber optic cable. The Hinsdale office was very much
a fiber optic center in the area.

Because of the toxic release, at one point firemen working in the building
had to be called out, in the interest of their own safety, and as firemen
relieved each other working inside in ten to fifteen minute shifts, they
were required to strip to their underwear and be hosed down with a special
solution so that the contamination would not be carried elsewhere.

After the fire was first reported, Illinois Bell employees on duty at the
time followed company procedures by first notifying the Fire Department.
Others then began fighting the fire, and a few began a process known as
an emergency telephone tree, calling other employees and company management
at home to notify them of the circumstances. Each employee thus notified
was responsible for calling a few more employees.

Within about an hour, while the fire was raging at its worst, several dozen
employees had already gathered on location, waiting for a go ahead to begin
clean up and restoration work.

   *But no one dreamed it would be nearly as bad as it was*

Although the fire was struck at 11:30 PM, fire officials would not permit
anyone to enter the building for several more hours, pending exhaustion of
the toxic fumes. Illinois Bell employees were allowed access to the building
beginning at 4:00 AM to survey the damage.

Most of Monday was spent merely bailing out the water and removing the
rubble from the fire. Emergency lighting was installed and cleaning crews
began scrubbing soot from the walls, ceilings and floors. The cleanup was
still in progress late Monday afternoon.

At this writing (12:50 AM Tuesday, May 10), Illinois Bell has not announced
any date that service will be restored. It is estimated that it will be
at least 4-5 days before *emergency* service is restored. Hinsdale, you
see, is also the main center for 911 services in over a dozen west suburban

Ordinarily in circumstances like this, the phone company will set up special
phones in public areas. They will often times be mobile or cellular type
instruments available for the public to use for emergency calls. But since
Hinsdale *is* the cellular center for Chicago, even this option is not

When the first firemen arrived on the scene, heavy black smoke was pouring
out of all the windows on the first floor. By that time, employees were
evacuating after having given up on their own emergency proceedures.

What we are faced with now is a *major* traffic jam on the network in the
Chicago area. Long distance calls in and out of the area are very sluggish
in getting through. Directory Enquiry in downstate Illinois is only able
to handle about ten percent of the calls they are receiving, those being
requests that are being searched manually through paper directories on hand
in the communities affected.

Hinsdale was the major center for MCI/Sprint long distance also....and those
services are severely crippled in the area. Obviously, data transmission
lines and the like are dead.

About 40,000 subscribers, representing 100,000 residents are without phone
service for the indefinite future. In Hinsdale and the other communities
affected, the Police Departments have stationed patrol cars a few blocks
apart on the street, and residents have been told to go to the nearest
police car to report emergencies.

Illinois Bell has not announced -- as of Monday evening -- any schedule
of priorities for restoration of service. Jim Eibel, vice president of
operations for Illinois Bell said emergency phones would be set up within
a day or two, when crews were able to reroute at least limited traffic
through the LaGrange, IL center. Of equal importance of course is the
restoration of 911 service, and the restoration of long distance service.
Eibel said restoring service to the ten prefixes in the area, which would
return regular phone service to local residents would probably not occur
for 'several' days. Naturally, cellular service also has to be placed in
the table of priorities somewhere. About fifty percent of the cellular
service in the entire Chicago area is out right now due to the fire.

Other Bell companies around the nation have responded by dispatching
emergency crews to come to the aid of Illinois Bell, and these out of
town crews will remain on site for several weeks as needed. In addition,
while the fire was in progress, executives from MCI and Sprint met with
their counterparts from Illinois Bell on location and immediatly offered
their full assistance and cooperation during the period of turmoil we
will be facing for the next several weeks.

For up to the minute announcements during the next several days, it is
recommended that you call a special recorded announcement service for
company employees. Called the 'Illinois Bell Communicator', this recorded
announcement will be updated 4-5 times daily, and can be recieved by
dialing 312-368-8000, a number at IBT Chicago Headquarters Building.

It goes without saying on this forum that everyone is requested to
avoid making all but emergency calls into the Chicago west suburban area
for at least the next several days. And if your call is met with an
'all circuits busy' message, kindly refrain from repeated dialing attempts,
as this simply clogs the network even worse.

A further update will be posted here when I have news available.

The last fire to occur in a telephone center was in Manhattan a few years
ago. You may recall the resulting damage and confusion from that situation.
The last fire *in the Chicago area* occurred in the River Grove, IL central
office in 1946...then an all manual exchange. Unlike that fire, considered
bad at the time, the fire in Hinsdale this past weekend was many times worse,
since Hinsdale is responsible not only for its local calling area but so
many of the overall network services for the Chicago area.

Patrick Townson

TELECOM Digest                           Saturday, May 14, 1988 1:31AM
Volume 8, Issue 78

Today's Topics:

                     Re: Chicago telco disaster?
                  link between internet and MCImail
                      Continuously Ringing Phone
             Re: Continuously Ringing Telephone (on VHF)
                 Re: (none) (really Maryland +1 dial


 From: netsys! (Len Rose)
 Subject: Re: Chicago telco disaster?
 Date: 12 May 88 00:15:27 GMT
 Reply-To: netsys! (Len Rose)

I also noted that many of our 800 calls are now being affected.
Repeated calls to the ATT repair line,have revealed that no one
knows when they will be back online.. So much for the damned
Bell System breakup..

Len Rose -

TELECOM Digest                             Monday, May 16, 1988 8:44PM
Volume 8, Issue 79

Today's Topics:

            proposed rate cut in western Fairfax Co., Va.
                             Fiber optics
                            Five-Year Plan
                          TOLLS/LOCAL CALLS
                  Hinsdale - Wednesday night update


 Subject: Hinsdale - Wednesday night update
 Date: Wed May 11 17:14:34 1988

The cleanup and service restoration goes on, slowly it seems, yet an overview
shows tremendous progress at the Illinois Bell Hinsdale Central Office, in
the wake of the disasterous fire Sunday night which gutted what IBT has
termed 'one of the four super centers in the Chicago area'. Bell officials
have still given no date for the complete restoration of service. The closest
estimate is 'several days - perhaps another week'.

Wednesday brought these accomplishments --

Five additional emergency telephone centers were installed in various areas.
In addition to the center located outside the burned out building at 120 N.
Lincoln Street, the huge communication trailers have been moved into shopping
malls and near the City Hall. These centers are operating and attended 24
hours per day. Calls are placed free of charge for anyone with urgent business.
The calls are limited to a few minutes and two calls per person. The users
are then requested to go to the back of the line(s) and wait their turn
again. The one center open on Tuesday was literally swamped for hours with
hundreds of people waiting in several lines, snaking their way forward to
the phones. Illinois Bell attendants rushed around taking notes and helping
the customers establish connections. The five additional centers opened on
Wednesday should relieve the crowding.

Moving vans and trailer trucks blocked Lincoln for several blocks Tuesday
night and Wednesday. Each contained new equipment and supplies for the office
which is literally being built from scratch. As a truck was unloaded, another
vehicle moved up into its place. Two Greyhound busses were parked nearby,
serving as places for employees to eat, rest and clean up between work shifts.

I was amazed to see a virtual ant-hill like atmosphere when passing by earlier
today. Dozens of people were busy at their assigned tasks. Some were painting
and cleaning. Others were installing lighting, air conditioning and such.
Carpenters were working to intall doors and windows. Several people were
working with circuit boards, assembly line fashion, passing them along to

The main switch, which they had hoped to save, now looks like it will have
to be replaced -- if not in its entirety, then with virtually one hundred
percent new components. The corrosion and rust from the high humidity level
of Sunday night and Monday are very evident.

The work is going on 24 hours per day. Workers take breaks when they must.
When they quit after several hours, others who had been eating/sleeping in
the Greyhound busses take their places.

Directory Assistance has been restored for everyone except in the immediate
area. The data base was rerouted through another central office. Microwave
dishes have been installed and are being used by the hospitals, police and
fire departments in the troubled area. Although residents still have no
phone service and must go out into the street to locate police help,
the police are now able to communicate among themselves, as are the

On Tuesday and Wednesday, Illinois Bell employees visited schools and
shopping malls throghout the area. School children were given notices to
take to their parents giving the locations of the emergency communication

     *Do Bell employees have dedication to their calling?*

I would say so... the internal newsline for employees (Illinois Bell
Communicator 312-368-8000) on Wednesday asked that, 'employees not specifically
assigned to restoration should *NOT* come to the site to assist. The limited
working space was already overcrowded with people, working in some cases
only 2-3 feet apart from each other at their tasks.

Yet show up they did, by the hundreds if it was otherwise their day off
Tuesday or Wednesday. Some came after their regular work was done; some
to assist in the public communications centers; others to man the
rest/feeding busses.

How badly has the fire hurt folks?

Hardest hit are not the teenagers of the village of Hinsdale, as they
would claim (smile), but the businesses which relied heavily on data services.
400 agents of the Illinois State Lottery are off line....
Several dozen ATM's serving the banks are off line....
Two major telemarking firms have closed 'for the duration', idleing several
hundred employees....
Stock and Option guys are tearing their hair out.....
Radio Shack reports that several hundred cellular units have been sold in
the past two days...units that function on channels assigned to Bell's
competitor and are in service....

I'll have more news for you tomorrow, and will continue to provide updates
until the crisis has passed.

Patrick Townson

TELECOM Digest                         Wednesday, May 18, 1988 10:44PM
Volume 8, Issue 82

Today's Topics:

                      Hinsdale - Thursday update
                       Hinsdale Update (Friday)
                     Special Spkr Phone wanted...
                         More Fun With COCOTs


 Subject: Hinsdale - Thursday update
 Date: Thu May 12 18:12:59 1988

Life goes on....

Jim Eibel, Vice President Operations for Illinois Bell announced a restoration
schedule for Hinsdale at a press conference on Thursday. While the news was
not pleasant, it probably is realistic. Until now, IBT had responded to
inquiries about service restoration by saying, 'in a few days'.

The switch has been abandoned. Due to extensive corrosion from the water
damage the night of the fire, the switch cannot be salvaged. Replacement will
take 10-14 days of technicians working around the clock. Residents of Hinsdale,
Clarendon Hills, Darien and Oak Brook who have no service should not expect
to have service restored until *near the end of the month*.  About 35,000
subscribers, representing a population of 100,000 people in those communities
will continue to use the emergency communication trailers set up about town
until further notice.

Most emergency requirements in the area have been met by rerouting through
the LaGrange, IL center. Emergency service for hospitals, police and fire
agencies and certain other government agencies is in place now, or will be
by the evening of May 15.

The long distance toll center operation at Hinsdale has been rerouted to
other centers for the most part, and residents of the several south suburban
communities who have been only able to make strictly local calls for the past
week will have their full service restored by May 15, albeit under somewhat
cramped network facilities.

Pagers, beepers, cellular service and similar functions are largely restored
and the restoration will be complete by the evening of May 15. Again, some
network congestion is to be expected for at least a couple weeks until the
Hinsdale office is fully operational once again.


The [Chicago Sun Times] for Thursday, May 12 reported an interview with an
'unnamed executive of Bell' who gave a somewhat different accounting of the
tragic events last Sunday.

According to this source, the fire was first noted in Springfield, IL, when
an emergency alarm was automatically tripped by the Hinsdale office. This
was about 4:30 PM. A human being in Springfield called the duty supervisor
for Hinsdale to ask what was going on. According to the newspaper report,
by the time office personnell got around to calling the Fire Department,
*the lines had already burned out* -- making the call impossible. A supervisor
stuck his head out the door at a minute or two before 5 PM and told a passer
by to please go to the Fire Department immediatly. Apparently the person did
not do so. Finally someone -- as yet unknown or unnamed -- went to the police
station in Hinsdale to report the fire at about 5:15 that time, the
phones throughout the area had already been dead for half an hour. If this
report is true, then there need to be some very serious discussions at
corporate level to find out why local employees discovered the fire *after*
someone downstate manning a computer terminal, and why it took another 45
minutes for someone to go to the Fire Department personally if necessary,
to rouse the firemen.

Bell executives would not comment on the [Sun Times] report.

For most intents and purposes then, the word is that network services for
the greater Chicago area will be restored in total by Sunday evening. Local
residents will be brought up gradually over the next 10-14 days as the new
switch is installed.

Updates can be heard on the Illinois Bell Communicator: 312-368-8000


 Subject: Hinsdale Update (Friday)
 Date: Fri May 13 20:54:36 1988

The plot seems to thicken....

Illinois Bell has tossed in the deck and said rehab of the old switch is
impossible. Since they are getting a new one, they are going with a #5 ESS
from AT&T which was delivered to the site on Friday afternoon. Working
around the clock, they say it will be operational for most subscribers by
the end of May, and for all subscribers by mid-June.

Several additional emergency communication trailers have been installed in
the area, bringing to eight the number of such locations in the west suburbs
where calls can be made. In addition, various company facilities in the
area have opened their doors to the public and installed several lines where
calls can be made.

In a distressing development, Vice President of Operations Jim Eibel admitted
in a press conference Thursday that there had been a *40 minute delay* in
calling the Fire Department. The [Chicago Sun Times] had testimony from
an 'unnamed executive' earlier saying the delay was more like an hour...

The timetable for the afternoon seems to go like this now --

At 3:50 PM, Sunday, May 8, a technician in Springfield, IL got an alarm
trip from Hinsdale, saying a fire was in progress. *THAT PERSON CHOSE TO
IGNORE THE ALARM*. Due to the heavy rain and high winds, it was 'assumed'
the alarm was false.

Shortly after 4:00 PM, other alarms in Springfield induced our technican
person to think the matter over more carefully. A decision was then made to
call the weekend duty supervisor in Chicago and ask what it was all about.
Where the newspapers and others in the media had first been told that the
employees *on location in Hinsdale* had discovered the fire, now we find out

The duty supervisor drives over and goes inside; discovers the fire -- then
apparently well under way -- and goes to call the Fire Department. At this
point, about a quarter past four, it is discovered by the duty supervisor
that they cannot call for help *because the phones were already dead, and
apparently had been dead all over town for several minutes at that point.*

Around 4:20 PM, someone sticks their head out the front door and says to a
passer by, 'Will you please call the Fire Department to come here.' This
passer by may or may not have bothered; no one knows who it was. Let's give
the person credit in assuming they probably went to the nearest pay phone
and *tried* to call; but finding the phone dead walked away bewildered by
it all. A little while later, the person in the doorway is able to convince
a motorist driving past to go to the Fire Department. That person does so,
and around 4:30 PM the first firefighters show up on the scene.

What an utterly wasteful, ineffecient approach. We might term this the
hour that cost several million dollars, since this delay probably cost
them their switch.

The new #5 ESS is coming from AT&T. Although Jim Eibel refused to discuss
the cost, communications experts familiar with similar equipment from other
manufacturers/distributors estimate the cost at sixteen million dollars.
Eibel would not confirm or deny this estimate.

Here are some questions you won't hear asked/answered on the Illinois Bell
Communicator Line (312-368-8000) --

1. Why did the person in Springfield who first got the alarm tripping decide
that a fire alarm did not mean a fire was in progress? Why would a fire alarm
mean anything other than a fire?

2. Whether it meant fire or not, why wasn't a call placed to Chicago
immediatly, instead of several minutes later when other alarms had begun
tripping? Why did the Springfield person need several symptoms of trouble
before being induced to call for help?

3. Why, when the Springfield person called the duty supervisor in Chicago
did s/he not also call the Fire Department and report the possibility of
a serious problem, and advise them a supervisor was on the way to meet them
at 120 North Lincoln Street in Hinsdale? *That would have saved about half
an hour right there -- and maybe saved the switch.*

4. When the duty supervisor arrived at the site, seeing as how Springfield
had not bothered to tell police/fire personnel to meet them on location, how
come that person did not immediatly try to phone the Fire Department? Or
did they? This is not yet known to me. Apparently the supervisor did attempt
to call in a minute or two, but the phones were already dead.

(Remember now, at this point the fire had apparently started nearly 20
minutes before, if the alarm trip in Springfield is to be believed.)

5. Why was there no one on duty at Hinsdale? Not even a watchman? Is this
lack of any personnel on duty part of the 'economy' Bell talks about when
they put so many major operations all under one roof? While many's the
night and weekend a watchman would sit and do nothing, his salary would have
been paid many times over before last Sunday night was ended.

6. Having discovered (a) the fire, and (b) the phones all being dead, why
didn't the duty supervisor *immediatly* leave the premises, get in their
car and drive to a police/fire station for help? Why didn't they drive 90
miles an hour, drive through red lights, honk their horn continously, yell
and scream at the top of their voice as they were driving, and otherwise
get help in there fast?

Instead, the supervisor leans out the front door and asks a passer-by to
call for help...a few minutes pass, and a motorist going by is also asked
to secure help. The motorist, name unknown, did go to the Fire Department,
and should be praised for this help. But it was no skin off his nose. What
if he had ignored the plea like the first one did?

6. Why the lack of adequate fire protection in the building? I can understand
why automatic ceiling sprinkers would be frowned upon: if activated, they
would do as much damage as the firemen did, if you want to think of the
firemen's heroic efforts as 'damage' under the circumstances.

I have splendid news for the heirarchy at IBT: Halon has been invented! This
charming chemical can be sprayed in *great quantities* on everything in sight
and its endearing charm is that it *makes fast work of fires*. Halon can be
dispensed from the ceiling, through piping just like conventional water
sprinklers. But what did Bell say when asked why Halon was not in place if
they were so concerned about potential water damage to the switch? Well,
said Jim Eibel, it would have cost too much money also....

Well now folks, you see what your false economy has cost you in real terms.
And its not a matter that you could write a check today for 20 million
dollars or so and like magic have everything operational tomorrow. And quite
frankly, 20 million is a *low -- very low -- estimate* of the cost to Illinois
Bell, to say nothing of the tremendous economic hardship caused in the areas

Like I say, these questions are not likely to be answered with any candor
anytime soon. It may well take a forced confrontation to get the answer, which
isn't likely to be broadcast on the Communicator.

I began entering this message with the idea in mind that I would conclude
with a demand that Jim Eibel, and the people who report immediatly to him
either resign or be fired. Now I am not so sure. Maybe there are valid
reasons for the 40-60 minute delay which caused the worst disaster in the
history of the telephone industry to occur last week. If there are valid
reasons, perhaps Jim Eibel will see this message and kindly enlighten us.

But in the event Bell decides to try and recoup its losses from this event
through its rate base instead of its stockholders, then I think without
question Eibel and the people around him who set policy which even begins
to tolerate the sloppy handling of last weekend's emergency have got to go.

Spiegel Catalog is located in Oak Brook. Hundreds of employees laid off
work for the duration....the phones are their lifeblood. Eight telemarketing
firms in the area closed until further notice. An insurance claims processing
center. Numerous sales and service organizations doing business on the phone.
Travel agencies; theatres and restaurants taking reservations. All in a bind.

When asked about restitution to the community, Eibel noted that the affected
subscribers would receive credit on their phone bill. No one has to pay for
the period - now up to a month in some cases, ha ha! - when service was not for other restitution, Eibel says its not corporate policy.

No, and I can't blame him on that point: no one has a constitutional right
to phone service. No one has a right to be that reliant upon it. But it was
the fault of his own people -- and the policies he helped write -- which
made the disaster as bad as it was. We do not have a right to demand phone
service at all times; we do have a right to expect the telco to take prudent
and reasonable steps to provide continuity of service; something apparently
lacking in priority when 'the economy involved in operating a central office'
was considered in the operation of Hinsdale.

TELECOM Digest                             Sunday, May 22, 1988 7:33PM
Volume 8, Issue 84

Today's Topics:

                        Re: TOLLS/LOCAL CALLS?
                   Submission for comp-dcom-telecom
                         Re: Mass 550 numbers

 Date: Thu May 19 17:12:36 1988
 From: karl@ddsw1.UUCP (Karl Denninger)
 Subject: Re: Chicago telco disaster?
 Reply-To: karl@ddsw1.UUCP (Karl Denninger)
 Organization: Macro Computer Solutions, Inc., Mundelein, IL

Quoted text here. Click to load it

Well, we're on the outside of Chicago, and luckily a good ways from the hub
that burned.  Illinois Bell's central office facilities in Hinsdale were
nearly destroyed by fire May 8th.

The building was gutted, all the equipment (read: the switch) is being
replaced.  They are currently re-wiring the building, top to bottom, and
have stated that 30,000 of the 35,000 lines that were completely off the
air now have a dialtone -- sometimes.  IBT also openly admits that service
will be spotty and horrid in general for some time (probably mid-June).

The fire's exact cause is still undetermined, but it is believed that it
started in one of the racks on the lower floor.  In any event, it was
over an *hour* from the time the first alarm was seen in Springfield's
monitoring station until fire equipment arrived on the scene!  The fire
alarm was not locally connected, there was no halon or sprinkler system, and
phones were already out by the time someone tried to call it in from the
local area (about 20-30 minutes after the first indication of a problem).

Our first indication that something was wrong was when we went to
complete a wiring job on that Sunday AM and found that the cellular
phones didn't work -- all throughout the city.  The real fun and games
began Monday, when we tried to contact some of our business customers
 -- and got nowhere.

The situation is not nearly back to normal yet -- several of our
clients still cannot dial or receive long distance calls, our service
here (50 miles away) is spotty as well.  It's very common to redial a
call a dozen or more times before it goes through; the remaining
capacity is badly overloaded.

Today things seem better -- for the first time since the fire we got a
normal news feed, a good sign that our computers (and humans) can once
again reach each other by phone.  It also seems a little better --
calls that were a "no chance" attempt a few days ago now go through
after a half-dozen tries or so.... And my car-phone is working
properly again.

There are a few questions I want to ask of Illinois Bell:

1) Why was that building, which is (obviously) extremely important to the
   integrity of the network:
    a) Un-manned (a single person would have prevented this)
    b) Not have a fire alarm connected with local fire departments
    c) Have no fire-suppression system installed (yeah, Halon is
       expensive.  How expensive is something like *this*?)

2) Who's going to pay for this obvious negligence.  We the customers?

3) What is IBT going to do to *prevent* future occurrances?

I believe that IBT should be forced to bear, without passing through,
the cost of this disaster.  As with other businesses who make
mistakes, they should have to pay out of their own pockets (and/or
insurance, if there was any -- somehow I doubt that there was
considering that they didn't even bother with a local fire alarm!)

When I moved to Chicago about three years ago, it took IBT three weeks
to get two residential lines correctly installed.  My phone would ring
and no one would be on the other end -- and calls to my number would
ring someone else's phone!  IBT failed to make good on their "will be
working by xxx" time at least a half-dozen times -- and when the phone
finally did ring, my custom calling features were missing.  Two more
weeks elapsed before those worked, and even then the "*70" disable for
call waiting was inoperative (this they told me they *couldnt* fix).
That little episode left me with a strong feeling that IBT was
incapable of performing their job with competence.  This fiasco leaves
no room for doubt.

Ps: To all of the IBT employees who are working right now to restore
    to normalcy the phones in Chicagoland -- a big thanks.  I have a
    few more choice words for IBT management, but those I will keep to

Karl Denninger                 |  Data: +1 312 566-8912
Macro Computer Solutions, Inc. | Voice: +1 312 566-8910
 ...ihnp4!ddsw1!karl            | "Quality solutions for work or play"

TELECOM Digest                             Friday, May 27, 1988 1:00AM
Volume 8, Issue 87

Today's Topics:

                            Toll-free zone
                        Re: TOLLS/LOCAL CALLS?
                    Re: Hinsdale - Thursday update
                         Re: Explain why....
                   Re: Special Spkr Phone wanted...
         How are V&H Coordinates Computed, Who Computes Them?
                            Re: CCITT bis
                    Phone Company Billing Question
                            2 line wiring


 From: gast@CS.UCLA.EDU (David Gast)
 Subject: Re: Hinsdale - Thursday update
 Date: 24 May 88 23:48:29 GMT
 Reply-To: lanai!gast@seismo.CSS.GOV (David Gast)

Patrick_A_Townson@cup.portal.COM writes:

Quoted text here. Click to load it

It seems to me that order of the restoration of services is slightly
mixed up.  Certainly, emergency service should be restored first, but
why should cellular service get priority over regular phone lines?

IBT's primary responsibility is to provide telephone service to the
people and businesses within its service area.  The fire has obviously
disrupted its ability to provide telephone service.  Fixing
competetive service first seems to indicate further abdication of
IBT's responsibilities.  (No one on duty, no fire fighting equipment,
etc are others).  This abdication will be only more severe if IBT asks
the rate payers to pay for the damage.

I can see the next ad for IBT's cellular service:

        Buy a cellular phone today.  Don't be without service
        after the next fire.

If IBT does not fix cellular service, then cellular customers could go
to other companies, but regular customers do not have the option of
switching phone companies.  It seems unfair.

These opinions may only be my own, but I hope the Illinois Public
Service Commision (or whatever its name is) adopts similar feelings.

David Gast

TELECOM Digest                            Tuesday, May 31, 1988 6:42PM
Volume 8, Issue 88

Today's Topics:

                     New AT&T dialable countries
                  Why cellular was restored so fast
                            Re: Submission
                 Three wire lines (was 2 line wiring)
                   AT&T announces new phone systems
                            speaker phones
                   Looking for an answering machine


 From: (John R. Covert)
 Date: 27 May 88 07:10
 Subject: Why cellular was restored so fast

Although the fact that cellular is a competetive service may have been
somewhere in the equation, the real reason cellular service was
restored so quickly is two-fold:

1. It allowed IBT to use cellular phones in emergency phone centers to
   provide temporary service to people whose service had not yet been

2. Cellular service is really easy to restore.  The cellular switch
   for Chicago was not in Hinsdale; all that had to be done to restore
   cellular service was to reconnect the land-line facilities going through
   the Hinsdale office which interconnected the cell sites in the area.  If
   there actually was a cell site in Hinsdale, replacing it involved bringing
   in only about two or three new 19 inch racks, and hooking them up to
   power, trunk facilities, and the antennas on the roof -- something that
   can be done in just a few hours.


TELECOM Digest                          Wednesday, June 1, 1988 8:28PM
Volume 8, Issue 89

Today's Topics:

                   Re: European billing and privacy
                    Re: Hinsdale - Thursday update
                         Re: Three wire lines
                       no 215-976 from Delaware
                         TT charges dropped.
         Re: Another reason why cellular was restored so fast
                      Re: TELECOM Digest V8 #88

 Subject: Re: Hinsdale - Thursday update
 Date: 1 Jun 88 05:38:48 GMT
 Reply-To: (James Fitzwilliam)



*> [discussion of the fire at IBT].
*>Pagers, beepers, cellular service and similar functions are largely restored
*>and the restoration will be complete by the evening of May 15.

*It seems to me that order of the restoration of services is slightly
*mixed up.  Certainly, emergency service should be restored first, but
*why should cellular service get priority over regular phone lines?

One of the earlier articles on this (fascinating) topic mentioned that
in cases of wide service outage the telco often sets up cellular
convenience phones in the affected neighborhoods, but that in this
case since the cellular service was zapped in the same fire, this was
not possible.  By restoring cellular service first, IBT can set up
emergency phone stations pending full service restoration.

Disclaimer: This answer is based on what I've read on the subject, so
if I'm completely off target I welcome correction!

Another service this fire has interrupted that I haven't seen
mentioned is GEnie access in several neighborhoods; alternate numbers
are being provided.

(My source is "New on GEnie")  I assume this also affects CompuServe, The
Source, etc. etc.  Hopefully this incident will prompt the telcos' insurance
carriers to apply pressure to get adequate fire protection installed for the
switching centers -- far less expensive than the losses that could occur.


  path: rochester!ur-tut!syap             "Piano is my forte"  (-:


 From: gatech!ihnp4!ihlpf!jjs@EDDIE.MIT.EDU (Sowa)
 Subject: Re: Another reason why cellular was restored so fast
 Date: 1 Jun 88 13:45:50 GMT
 Reply-To: gatech!ihlpf!jjs@EDDIE.MIT.EDU (54442-Sowa,J.J.)

Covert) writes:

Quoted text here. Click to load it

1.  The Hinsdale, Illinois Office (does/normally should have) provided
    distribution services to both the wireline and non-wireline
    cellular providers. Even though from the location of the MTSO the
    wireline office was hit harder.

2.  The Ameritech Mobile Hinsdale cell site was reconfigured to
    provide service to the outage area. Cellular is used also by
    emergency services not only for the business class. Restoration
    service was enhanced by site personal having the ability to
    communicate with distribution services.

3.  Evan Richards, the Illinois Bell Telephone representative handling
    the disaster recovery for the Hinsdale office, recently lateraled
    from Ameritech Mobile Communications Inc. to the IBT side of the
    Ameritech Corporation.

4.  The level of service provided to cellular was not initially at
    normal high quality since it was only patched also. It is also
    easier to patch one or two light guide cables and get service
    restored faster then having to engineer, ship, install, test, and
    cutover new frames.



These were the articles during May, 1988. A few minor follow up
articles appeared in June, 1988. Most of the reports were written by
myself from  Portal Communications. As a resident in Chicago, I was
affected first hand by the fire, although my personal service was not

As a point of information, on May 18, 1989 (Thursday), phones in the
same area were down for four hours, from 9:30 AM until 1:40 PM due to
some unidentified failure in the computer in that phone office.
See Digest Volume 9 #170-171 and later issues for this report.

Patrick Townson
TELECOM Digest Moderator  (jsol was Moderator at the time of the fire
in May, 1988).

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