Questions over whether cut cable causing 911 outages was properly marked

By Jennifer Kliese

COLUMBIA COUNTY (WKOW) — A cut cable caused widespread phone outages, including 911 centers in our area on Thursday. Now, there are some questions over whether that cable was properly marked while contractors were digging in a farm field.

Contractors from Kartechner Brothers in Waupun have been digging in a farm field near the town of Leeds for 10 days. The team is installing a crop drainage system.

One dig in the wrong spot cut a Frontier Communications fiber optic cable around 9 a.m., wiping out 911 circuits in Columbia, Adams, Marquette and Juneau counties, Wisconsin Dells, along with some cellular calls coming into the 911 center from far western Dodge County. Landline and internet services also halted.

“It doesn’t happen that often and unfortunately when it does happen it seems to be on a larger scale because the fiber optic cable generally handles a lot of different traffic,” says Kelly Shipley, general manager with Frontier Communications.

During the outage, Shipley tells 27 News people could still call local police departments in case of emergency, but 911 did not go through.

27 News tried calling several of the affected dispatch centers, either getting a busy signal or in some cases the following recording:

“Due to local telephone phone company trouble in the area you are calling, your call cannot be completed at this time. Please try your call later.”

About a dozen Frontier workers on jobs across the state came to Columbia County to start repairing the cable, but they couldn’t do so until they dug it up. Kartechner contractors stayed on site to help with that process.

“It’s challenging, especially when it gets a little colder like this,” says Shipley. “The ground is frozen so it takes a little bit more time. Things don’t work as well, your hands, the machinery, so you have to be a little bit careful.”

By 4 p.m. crews were able to splice the fibers back together again and 911 circuits were restored, along with phone and internet services in all affected areas.

Mike Kartechner, who declined to do an on camera interview, tells 27 News his crews were cleared to dig in the area. He says the company had called the Diggers Hotline before starting the project but he believes the firm assigned to locate the utilities did not mark the line they accidentally cut.

That firm, USIC, was one scene Thursday. Its workers declined to comment to 27 News on the incident. Messages left with staff at USIC’s main office in Indianapolis were not returned Thursday.

Shipley says Frontier is working to verify exactly what happened leading up to the incident, whether it was properly called in and why it wasn’t located.

The outage had triggered Wisconsin Emergency Management to issue a Civil Emergency Alert over radio, TV and wireless networks in the affected area to inform people of the problems at the 911 centers.

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