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The Telegram
  • Herkimer County shooting jammed cellphone lines

  • For almost three hours following a deadly shooting spree earlier this month, Herkimer County residents and public safety personnel using Verizon Wireless were unable to make cellphone calls because of a jam in the system.

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  • For almost three hours following a deadly shooting spree earlier this month, Herkimer County residents and public safety personnel using Verizon Wireless were unable to make cellphone calls because of a jam in the system.
    Responders from Herkimer County’s 911 center also were having trouble getting calls in and out on March 13.
    Officials began noticing issues about 10:30 a.m. after 64-year-old Kurt Myers shot six people, four fatally, in Mohawk and Herkimer, said Robert Vandawalker, director of the county’s Office of Emergency Services.
    “Not only the 911 center, the problem here was people could not — with any reliability — make a cellular 911 call through the Verizon system,” Vandawalker said. “Who knows what problems that created, or could have or did create. We don’t know what (information) we lost because of this.”
    About 70 percent of the county’s 911 emergency calls come from cellphones, he said.
    John O’Malley, public relations manager for Verizon Wireless in Upstate New York, said there are three cellphone sites in the area and the capacity is measured by the average use and about 20 percent is added to make up for spikes.
    “But then you get something like this and it exceeds that additional capacity,” he said.
    Vandawalker said attempts were made to contact Verizon via landline, but they initially were put on hold.
    O’Malley said between 9 and 11 a.m. that day a monitoring engineer, unaware of what was going on in Herkimer County, noticed the spike and added more voice capacity and 192 voice channels. Officials said the lines stayed congested until about 2 p.m.
    Being that cellphone site capacity is finite, O’Malley said there isn’t anything more that could have been done.
    Bill Menezes, principal research analyst for Gartner — a global technology, research and consulting firm — said emergency technology contingencies are aimed to public safety and first responders to give them first priority for voice and data traffic.
    Vandawalker said that during a meeting with Verizon representatives Tuesday he learned that the county was not signed up for that service and planned to reregister for it.
    He said the phones must be with a government account, and he didn’t believe there was an additional cost for the service. Vandawalker also said he gathered better contact information for Verizon officials for the future.
    Menezes said jams on cellphone networks are not unheard of, especially in rural areas.
    “A network is built on a typical call capacity along with occasional spikes in usage,” he said. “When everyone jumps on it at the same time, the network just gets congested.”
    Over the last 10 years, however, technology has improved so dropped calls are less common, he said.
    Mohawk and Herkimer police Chief Joseph Malone said officers had to revert to the police radio to contact one another during the phone outages.
    Page 2 of 2 - “It changed the day for us when you get used to being able to communicate quickly,” he said. “When it shuts down, it changes the way we do business.”
    Malone said the experience signified that communication that can be improved, and it would be discussed during a Thursday meeting of the county police chiefs.
    Mohawk resident and Herkimer County Community College student Robert Drumm said he had trouble getting in contact with family in the affected area.
    “I understand we’re in a small area,” he said. “(Cellphone carriers) should still have some kind of prepared plan. Obviously, emergency workers take priority, but you have to think of the general public as well.”
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