I was disappointed to see the recent article in The Daily Astorian on storm damage critical of Qwest and other providers and had to respond. ("Warrenton leaders happy with staff, unhappy with Qwest, Dec. 12).
Qwest serves Clatsop County with state-of-the-art telecommunications infrastructure that provides more backup against failure than exists almost anywhere in the country. Most cuts in the fiber are never noticed by residents because our fiber ring ordinarily redirects calls to a backup route.
What happened earlier this month was not ordinary. Like the power grid and roads, the telephone network is physical infrastructure that isn't immune to damage from the blows nature can deliver. The fiber ring that normally prevents the area from being isolated was cut in four different places and on both routes by floods and landslides. This left most residents unable to make or receive calls from outside the local calling area from early Monday morning during the storm until Wednesday afternoon.
I understand the difficulty and frustration the situation caused. I also need to emphasize that Qwest technicians and staff responded immediately and that we restored the connection to the area as quickly as was possible.
While service providers such as Qwest, emergency responders and local officials should analyze what went right, wrong and what can be done better next time, much of the criticism of Qwest has been vague, unfair and needs to be answered. The criticism has been especially unfair to our dedicated crews of technicians, many of whom were brought in from around the state and didn't take a day off for nearly two weeks as they worked to restore both telephone and high-speed Internet service to our customers.
Given the severity of damage, we could not access some areas until escorted through road blocks by state highway officials. In another area, we could not repair damage until state officials and the natural gas company had cleared the spot where our fiber had been damaged by a tree that rested within inches of a high-pressure gas line.
I am not making excuses, but simply trying to explain the difficulties our technicians navigated to restore service to the area. At no point were resources, staff or lack of attention an issue. Qwest brought in technicians from Portland, Bend, Medford, Pendleton and Hermiston to help our Astoria crew.
I also want to point out, proudly, that most Clatsop County residents with regular landline phones could make local calls throughout the storm even when there was no commercial power. This is because Qwest technicians drove from facility to facility, 24-hours a day for the first several days, with gas cans to keep our systems running on generators.
It's safe to say everyone who had a piece of maintaining and restoring critical services to the area has lessons to learn from this month's storms. I hope going forward we can concentrate on working together to tackle any specific issues that need to be addressed so we are as prepared as we can be in the future.
Judy Peppler is Qwest president for Oregon.