County Council declares 'state of emergency' in wake of communications failure

In an effort to bring more resources to bear, the San Juan County Council declared a state of emergency Friday in the wake of the "catastrophic" failure of a wide spectrum of communication capability in the islands.

Approved by the council shortly before noon, the declaration authorizes all county departments to take "appropriate and prudent measures" to protect the health, welfare and property of island residents, and to them with emergency assistance.

The declaration also requests assistance from the governor and state agencies to provide:

1) Ongoing coordination, technical and logistical support from the Emergency Management Division of the Washington State Military Department;

2) Ongoing coordination and technical expertise from the Washington State Utilities Commission;

3) Additional technical and logistical support as deemed necessary by San Juan County and coordinating Washington State agencies;

4) That additional requests for Washington State Resources be considered and granted when made;

5) That resources request unable to be granted by Washington State be forwarded to the appropriate federal response agency in a timely fashion.

The declaration also is step one in creating access for businesses to seek reimbursement for lost revenue because of the widespread communication failure.

... more from the county Information Services Department:

Meeting in special session today, the San Juan County Council unanimously voted to declare “A State of Emergency within San Juan County, Washington.”

The declaration came on the fourth day since the failure of an underwater communications cable disrupted cell and landline telephone connections with the mainland. It is hoped that the declaration will enable public agencies to recover extraordinary costs incurred due to the outage and qualify local businesses for assistance.

The outage initially knocked out telephone communications between islands and to the mainland, including 911 emergency response lines and, though 911 service was restored Thursday, communications with the mainland remains limited.

The outage has interrupted other vital services that depend on Internet, cell or telephone service, including the Lifeline service used primarily by seniors and disabled persons.

The Sheriff and other emergency responders have also expressed concern that even citizens who have cell phone service, cannot reach local phone numbers, including emergency agencies, because all cell phone calls are currently processed on the mainland. Arrangements are now being made for emergency dispatch calls to be routed through Island County, but in the meantime cell phone users are being urged to try to use a landline phone to report emergencies.

“People have been coping with the inconveniences, but it is affecting essential services,” said Council Member Rick Hughes, who chaired the emergency meeting.

Some banks have had to close or restrict transactions because their data lines cannot connect to the mainland. Local lodging places, in areas that have no internet services as well as phone outages,  have no way to accept reservations. Medical personnel on the mainland can’t call or fax prescriptions to local pharmacies and there is a concern that residents with families on the mainland can’t check on their well-being.

Fire departments and volunteers have gone door to door in many sections of the County to check on older or disabled neighbors.

“The community has really pulled together and found ways to deal with this, Hughes said. “But as time goes on, the cost of coping has increased for our business community as well as the government, and our concerns about our ability to ensure the well-being of our residents are growing.”

The Council noted that CenturyLink, the company responsible for the services which have been interrupted, is putting its full resources and personnel to work to restore the services, however there is currently no firm estimate of when full services will be restored.

The latest statement from CenturyLink indicates that limited service to the mainland may be available within the next 48 hours. Full restoration of service will likely take several more days.




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