Re: NYC 1975 CO Fire -- Supposed it Happened Today?

In Feb 1975 there was a very bad fire in a big Central Office building

> in New York City. Twelve local exchanges and numerous tandem switches > were knocked out. > The Bell System mobilized and worked around the clock to get service > restored. Some burnt panel switchgear was removed and replaced with > new ESS switches airlifted in. Other gear was cleaned one contact at > a time with Q-Tips. Some calls were rerouted to other offices. > Service was restored quickly and known as the "Miracle on Second > Avenue". > I wonder: Suppose a fire like that happened today: Would it take > longer or shorter to restore service in today's world? > On the plus side, I think ESS would make things a lot simpler. No > contact cleaning, just replace the "boxes" with new ones. Some > traffic could be rerouted as was done before by ESS reprogramming. > Hopefully CO buildings today have non destructive (ie Halon) fire > supression systems. > But there are some negatives: > Without the big Bell System in existence, could new "boxes" be found > quickly and deployed? Western Electric had them ready (for another > location). Do today's switch makers carry such inventory being > they're very expensive? > Secondly, New York Telephone brought in craftsmen from other > companies. Could that happen today with staff size so much lower and > the company fractured? > Third, some work involved resplicing cables in the cable vault. Small > space limited the number of people who could work at one time, despite > laying plank catwalks to "double up". I think in a fire such splicing > would still need to be done and take just as long, possibly longer if > skilled crews weren't available (see above). > Comments? (Public replies, please) > P.S. A read of the New York Times of that incident disclosed the > tenor of troubled NYC at that time. Merchants and residents without > phones were more worried about security -- being able to call police > -- than they were about lost business; that theme was repeated many > times in interviews. Many businesses and people had burglar alarms > that were now inoperative without a phone line. > [TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: February 27, 1975 was the date. And it > was a very bad fire, with service out for a long time afterward. There > have been other very severe fires in their history, in the summer of > 1945 in the Chicago area, in one of the suburbs was one of the > first. This Digest was not around at the time, nor at the time of the > 1960's fire in Richmond, Indiana. However, Richmond, IN and New York > City in 1975 are both reported in detail in our archives in the > section on history. Then on Mother's Day, in May, 1988 was the major > fire in Hinsdale, IL, which like New York City, took place on 'only' > one building but affected a _large_ number of phones and exchanges and > services in the Chicago area and throughout Illinois and Indiana. So > telco tends to 'play the averages' on things like this, with fires or > other disasters (New Orleans and Katrina for example) occuring about > once every fifteen or twenty years. Although it is questionable if > telco could have done very much to protect their property and services > in the Katrina disaster, they most certainly could have mitigated > their losses and the disruption in service in Manhattan in 1975 and > again in Hinsdale in 1988. > But in the case of Hinsdale at least, telco said at the time and still > insists even today that it is not 'cost effective' for them to take > steps in advance to mitigate their losses when these things > happen. So, they do nothing about it, and deal with it when it > happens. So, the difference between February, 1975 and February, 1965 > was ten years; May, 1988 was another thirteen years. Add twelve years > for the cable fire in St. Louis in January, 1990, and about fifteen > years for New Orleans and Katrina; although both New Orleans and St. > Louis were not really anything telco could do 'much about'. So Lisa, > it is not a question of 'if it happens again' so much as it is a > question of 'when it happens again' as it will, I am sure, given the > facts of life these days, with 'terrorists' all around us and your > heroine, Ma Bell telling us she will deal with it if it happens, but > it is not 'cost-effective' to worry about it before that time. She > still says 'if'; most of us say 'when'. Don't worry, when it does and > after it has been dealt with, Ma Bell will put out another very self- > congratulatory book like they did in the summer of 1975 with a cover > picture of a plume of thick, black smoke and a Brave, Couragous > Fireman and tell us how They Knew What Was Best in getting service > restored a month or two later. What they will not tell you until they > get sued with their backs up against the wall will be as it was in > Hinsdale: the first alarms went off in _Springfield, IL_ (about two > hundred miles south of Chicago and were ignored by the on-duty staff > for about an hour until _they_ decided to make inquiry from someone > in the Chicago area. PAT]

Most of the companies have switches located in trailers that can be moved to a site and spliced into the office cables. Also many of the offices have a very good fire suppression systems that would stop a fire very fast. I was involved in the 1971 Sylmar, Calif office, in fact I was working that night in Sunland and we really felt it. Trailers were brought in with switch boards and a construction center was set up in Pacoma and the step equipment was cabled and moved to the Sylmar CO. That was in the step days, things are much smaller today.

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Steven Lichter
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