NEW YORK - Verizon today began work to restore phone service to a major switching center that was damaged as a result of yesterday's attacks on the World Trade Center.
Public safety officials this morning allowed the company to re-enter the office which sustained structural and water damage. The center, located at 140 West Street, is adjacent to the devastated area.
"We are still assessing the damage and will work around the clock to restore full service to affected customers as quickly as possible," said Larry Babbio, Verizon vice chairman and president. Babbio provided an update on the health of Verizon's networks at a 1 p.m. news conference today.
Babbio stressed that while some services to southern Manhattan are impacted by yesterday's attacks, the rest of Verizon's networks on the East Coast and nationwide continue to operate normally. In the New York City and Washington, D.C. areas, calls today continued to run at about 340 million calls, nearly double the normal, he said.
"Our network is designed to provide back-up systems, and that redundant capability kept service up for many customers who might otherwise have been out of service," said Babbio. "A good example is New York City's 9-1-1, which is completely redundant and has been working throughout this tragedy."
The West Street facility contains four call-processing computers serving 200,000 access lines and the equivalent of 3 million data circuits in lower Manhattan. Babbio said that while some circuits that serve the Wall Street area go through the building, the company was attempting to by-pass the West Street facility for these circuits.
Babbio said the company does not have an estimate on how long it will take to bring the center fully back online. "The building has three or four major holes -- that means water and dirt have gotten in to sensitive computer gear.
Babbio said the company also is pumping water from the basement so that it can restore power to the building using generators. Additional switching equipment is on standby.
Babbio said Verizon has provided hundreds of additional lines for Bellevue and St. Vincent's Hospitals, the New York Police Department and other emergency centers.
Babbio said the company has accounted for the vast majority of its 488 employees assigned to the World Trade Center and 40 employees at the Pentagon.
Verizon maintains certain communications systems for the U.S. Department of Defense. The Pentagon continues to have communications, however, since the military owns this equipment, Babbio referred questions about damage there to the Pentagon.
Verizon is providing additional wireline and cellular circuits to emergency workers and investigators at the site of the Pennsylvania plane crash.
The Verizon's wireless network is operating well nationwide. In southern Manhattan, 10 Verizon Wireless cell sites remain out of service, but demand is currently being handled by neighboring cells. During the peak of yesterday's emergency, Verizon Wireless experienced 50 percent to 100 percent more traffic than normal, nationwide, on its wireless network. Currently, volume levels have returned to normal as have blocked and lost calls, even in southern Manhattan.
Verizon Wireless has made 5,000 phones available to emergency response authorities. Currently, 800 of them are in use by various authorities.
Verizon bolstered its usual force of more than 700 operators serving the Northeast by 50 percent. Over 1,000 operators handled more than four times the normal number of Directory Assistance calls early Wednesday, and 11/2 times the normal calls to "0" services like collect and credit card services. Calls to regular operators were being answered in 2 seconds or less, to assure that trapped victims dialing "0" could reach help quickly.
Verizon took a number of steps to assist customers affected by yesterday's attacks. The company yesterday began offering free local calling from all of its 4,000 curbside payphones in Manhattan. The company's GTE Airfone unit also will remove charges for all calls made from aircraft on its phones from 9 a.m. to noon yesterday.