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Despite its losses, Verizon went right back to work restoring communications services

David Rosenzweig, VP of network operations in the Northeast region for Verizon Communications Inc., began his workday on Sept. 11 with an 8 a.m. planning meeting at the telecom vendor's headquarters in midtown Manhattan. As the meeting drew to a close, Rosenzweig, who was seated with his back to the conference room's south-facing windows, saw shock and horror register on the face of a colleague across the table as a plane crashed into the World Trade Center's north tower. Ten minutes later, Rosenzweig and his co-workers watched the second plane hit the south tower. Within the hour, he was at Verizon's downtown switching center at Ground Zero.

During the next few weeks, Rosenzweig would supervise thousands of employees working around the clock to restore telecom service to 14,000 businesses and thousands of residential customers in lower Manhattan. Verizon's 140 West St. location, across the street from the World Trade Center, served 300,000 of Manhattan's 2 million voice lines. Damage to the building was so great that the switching center--the city's busiest--failed completely. The Trade Center's collapse sheared off parts of the historic building's facade, exposing equip-ment to huge amounts of dirt and debris. Girders from the collapsing buildings punched through the sidewalk into Verizon's cable vaults in the basement. Commercial power failed, and a flood destroyed equipment in basement levels. Two Verizon employees lost their lives at the scene; another was killed in the Pentagon attack.

Verizon employees returned to Ground Zero the day after the terrorist attacks. Within days, the telecom vendor had routed traffic around buildings, connected new circuits, and put customers on Sonet rings.

Setting their grief aside, Verizon workers returned to Ground Zero the next day. "The first goal was to provide service to every customer" by any means possible, Rosenzweig says. That included dragging fiber-optic cables from street level up through the building's fifth-and eighth-floor windows to tie them into the main switching fabric; it was impossible to run the cables through flooded underground conduits or the water-logged basement. By last week, Verizon had restored 90% of the 300,000 switched voice circuits served by 140 West St. and 80% of its 300,000 dedicated voice and data circuits. It had set up 21 temporary cell-phone towers to replace 10 lost towers and handle increased calling.

Almost all of Verizon's equipment is state-of-the-art digital electronic switching, transmission, and multiplexing hardware with advanced rerouting capabilities. In just days, Verizon had routed traffic around buildings, connected new circuits, and put customers on Sonet rings, fiber-optic cables in ring architectures. Before Sept. 11, lower Manhattan had numerous point-to-point circuits, which made the network more susceptible to widespread outages. Sonet rings can sense a cable cut or failure on one portion of the ring and restore service almost instantly by reversing the direction of traffic to bypass damaged portions of the network. "The restoration efforts insofar as they go to the physical delivery of traffic around the network have been fairly extraordinary," says Ivan Seidenberg, Verizon's president and co-CEO.

Verizon has installed 18 new Sonet rings so far, and "at least nine more are on the drawing board," says Joe DeMauro, president of Verizon's Liberty region, which includes Manhattan. The company also will spread traffic more evenly across all of its switching centers so a failure of any single site will be of less consequence, DeMauro says.

Verizon customer Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co. apparently also believes in distributing risk. The company recently sold its newly built midtown office at 745 Seventh Ave. to competitor Lehman Brothers. In a statement, Morgan Stanley cited business-continuity planning as one reason for the move. Its midtown headquarters are at 1585 Broadway, one block from the Seventh Avenue location, so both offices were dependent on the same Verizon switching center. To avoid that, Morgan Stanley will use space in disparate areas of New York.

While thousands of businesses and consumers are still waiting for service to return, Verizon has weathered the crisis in good form, analysts say. "Given the scale of the damage, Verizon did relatively well in terms of restoring traffic in the area," says Courtney Munroe, an International Data Corp. analyst. As Verizon replaces its lost and damaged equipment, it may also address a long-standing criticism of incumbent phone companies in metropolitan markets--that they've lagged in replacing aging copper circuits with higher-capacity fiber optics. "It appears likely that by the time we get done, we're going to have 60% to 70% of the area on fiber-optic systems," DeMauro says. That will increase network capacity, require less maintenance, and be less likely to fail.

Other companies pitched in to restore telecom service to the immediate vicinity and to accommodate service requests by customers forced to relocate workers.

Com/Peripherals Inc. started getting calls within hours of the attack, says Ernie Odierna, president of the Great Neck, N.Y., reseller. Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield, which had to relocate about 1,600 people from the World Trade Center to a backup site in Melville, N.Y., called Com/Peripherals to connect an existing office in Melville to the backup site, which had no communications capabilities. Com/Peripherals suggested installing a wireless data circuit between the sites and came up with a pair of 100-Mbps Western Multiplex microwave radios. The installation was accomplished in just a few days--and would have gone faster were it not for problems such as the equipment getting lost at the new location.

AT&T lost two switches in the World Trade Center tragedy, but its premium outage-resistant service survived the disaster unscathed, despite AT&T's having 19 redundant fiber-optic rings used for the service in the area. The long-distance company provided uninterrupted Ultra Available service to Merrill Lynch & Co. and three other major financial customers in the area throughout the disaster, says Gary Hilbert, VP of high-availability and security services at AT&T.

AT&T also helped in another way: Within 24 hours of the attack, it had sent in a contingent with a satellite truck to assess plans to replace its switches. The New York mayor's office saw the truck, which can establish 96 voice lines within minutes, and pressed it into service for emergency personnel. With AT&T's blessing, the truck was used for emergency-service efforts for about a month.

--with Eileen Colkin

Photos courtesy of Verizon Communications

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