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Construction mishaps disable local communication systems

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By LPR Staff
Editor/POST-REGISTER

For more than eight hours, and for the second time in fewer than 10 days, communications in Lockhart screeched to a halt on Monday morning after a fiber optic line was cut by contractors digging in a rural area outside town.

According to Lockhart Police Department public information officer John Roescher, the incident occurred just aft

er 9 a.m. on Monday, when a contractor using a boring machine severed on of the key fiber optic lines between Lockhart and Austin, causing an interruption in landline and cellular telephone usage, as well as interrupting internet service for hundreds of customers in the area.

“The good thing is that our dispatch systems are monitored, and they have alarms that let us know when there is a break in communications,” he said. “When that happens, Lockhart’s 9-1-1 calls are routed through Luling, and Caldwell County’s calls go to Bastrop County. We have other means of communication available to make sure those calls are dispatched to our emergency services and dispatched.”

The backup system is a blessing, Roescher suggested, because of the nature of the break in communications.

Essentially, after the fiber optic line was cut, Lockhart landline phones, radio towers and cellular towers operating on the AT&T infrastructure lost the ability to communicate outside of the local “grid.”

Roescher said most cellular towers, despite their broadcasting abilities, require interaction with the main system in Austin. When that interaction is broken, only those phones with antennae strong enough to pick up service from another area are useable. Others simply go silent – as hundreds did in Lockhart and Caldwell County on Monday.

What’s more, the same principle applies to landline telephone calls. Most are routed through a main switch in Austin, Roescher said, which is why many people were unable to use their home telephones on Monday.

The danger, Roescher said, is in the fact that so many people have disconnected their home phone service in favor of using cellular phones for all purposes, including internet access. While 9-1-1 services are able to reroute landline calls, there is nothing they were able to do about cellular service.

Most service was restored before 8 p.m. on Monday evening, although some cellular providers continued to have troubles until nearly midnight.

On Wednesday morning, representatives from Bluebonnet Electric Co-Op confirmed a contractor relocating their power poles as a result of the SH-130 construction was responsible for severing the line.

“We called a line locator and met with the locator on the site,” said Mike Furry, owner of LineTech, the company performing the work. “That line locator did locate and identify two of the three lines, but the fiber optic line was not.”

Furry said his crew will be continuing to work in the area for several more months, as will a number of other companies as construction of SH-130 progresses. His company will be taking additional preventative measures, including using what he called a “vac system” to dig holes for other poles in the area they are charged with relocating.

However, he said, with the number of crews working in the area, and some confusion about which lines are and are not active, as utilities are relocated for highway construction, there is a strong possibility the line may be severed again.

Representatives from the SH130 Concession Company did not return calls seeking comment prior to press time Wednesday.

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