Severed Cable Cuts Communications in Washington

A severed underwater cable took down communications for days in San Juan County, Wash.

by / November 14, 2013

San Juan County, Wash., declared a state of emergency on Nov. 8 after four days without cell or landline phone service and spotty Internet connectivity. What was first deemed merely inconvenient soon began to seep into what officials called “essential services.” The county’s declaration was a formal request to Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and state agencies for help.

The county — which consists of several islands near Seattle — restored emergency 911 capabilities on Nov. 7. On Nov. 9, Verizon reported it was able to restore service to cellphone customers, and telecom provider CenturyLink found the severed underwater cable that caused the problem on Nov. 11.

Workers found a length of cable about 100 feet long severed at both ends about 280 feet underwater, south of where the cable was originally installed in 1999. CenturyLink doesn’t have a definitive answer for what cut the cable, but reported that an earthquake struck three minutes before the company received their first alarm notification. That may have been the cause.

CenturyLink reported it is now looking for more damage to the cable and is moving a barge out to anchor new and repaired cables to restore service to the county. According to multiple reports, the outage hurt the economy, as banks were forced to close or restrict transactions, and businesses that rely on tourism were unable to run credit card transactions or accept phone calls for new reservations.

Temporary fixes have restored most cell and landline phone connectivity, but Internet service remains sporadic in the area.