By CHRIS AGEE
Widespread communication outages were reported throughout Mineral Wells Thursday. Residents, businesses, and agencies of all stripes faced varied difficulties as a result of cell phone, landline, Internet, and cable interruptions.
An AT&T employee who requested anonymity confirmed crews working along U.S. Highway 180 East between
Mineral Wells and Weatherford cut a fiber-optic cable line.
According to John Richardson of the city’s Information Technologies Department, two separate outages were reported – shortly before midnight Wednesday and around 9 a.m. Thursday.
He said residents reported a variety of services had either been suspended or significantly limited. AT&T and SuddenLink were among the two providers most commonly cited as deficient, he added.
Richardson added the two events were likely related, though he did not speculate as to the cause or duration of the outages.
SuddenLink General Manager Raymond Greenwood said the company leases fiber-optic cables from AT&T and is dependent on its service. He could not offer any insight aside from the observation a line had apparently been cut.
“I’ve seen it take hours [to repair],” he said, “because you couldn’t find the cut.”
Since the cables are leased and not under SuddenLink’s control, Greenwood said he did not have much more information than the average consumer.
“We’re the customer like you are,” he said.
Nearly everyone in the city experienced some level of inconvenience due to the outage.
City Administrator Peggy Gustin said she fielded many citizen complaints Thursday morning, noting people were unable to send or receive calls through various providers. She explained her cellular and home phones were not functioning but phone service in her office was.
Additionally, while there was extremely limited Internet access, she said reports from south of town showed residents there were able to get online.
Mayor Mike Allen said he first noticed the outage late Wednesday night when his cable service was interrupted.
While residents suffered through a lack of connectivity, area businesses and emergency services faced further hardships.
Palo Pinto General Hospital CEO Harris Brooks said the facility acted swiftly and decisively upon learning of the outage. He said hospital staff first contacted their telephone service provider before determining which lines of communication were down.
“We enacted our disaster plan,” he said, “we have one dealing specifically with communication.”
He said such unpredictable situations also call for flexibility and quick reactions.
“There’s not enough planning you can do. We determined what we were without,” he said, explaining almost all cellular service was interrupted.
“Cell phones were our Plan B. Plan C is walkie-talkies and walkers,” he noted, though staff did not have to resort to those provisions.
“Our internal phone service was working,” Brooks said, adding staff then called to surrounding buildings and made an announcement via hospital intercom.
The facility’s next concern, Brooks said, was for patients requiring transfer to another hospital. Fortunately, he said, a supervisor was able to make cellular calls through an alternate carrier service.
He said staff rebounded well and made it through the incident successfully.
As with any disaster, he said administrators will meet to discuss their reaction and ways to more effectively handle a similar situation in the future.
Many retailers did not fare well as system failure cost them significant credit and debit card sales.
A Family Dollar employee confirmed the retailer was unable to accept any form of payment aside from cash Thursday morning, noting cell and landline phone service was also interrupted.
At least one convenience store suspended fuel sales entirely for much of Thursday due to system failures.
While its off-site ATM machine was operational during the outage, a sign on the First State Bank entrance indicated the branch was closed due to the outage.
Crews worked at the construction site, east of Cool, throughout the day until service was restored shortly before 2 p.m.