AT&T is still recovering from the massive damage caused by the Christmas Day bombing. The blast knocked out service across the region.
Although service is largely restored, experts say the incident is a reason to rethink how we design crucial networks.
When service was wiped out, residents, businesses and law enforcement across the state were suddenly struggling to communicate. The mobile outage lasted days for some residents, and even longer for some government agencies.
Carlos Natalino researches network resilience at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden. He says outages during disasters compound an already critical problem.
“Telecommunication is extremely important in our everyday lives, but even more important when something happens because we need to communicate. We need to ask for help,” Natalino says.
Making networks more resilient
The damaged AT&T building handled massive amounts of data moving through the region. Natalino says it’s not uncommon for a single building to hold that much infrastructure, but a Vanderbilt computer science professor tells News Channel 5 they are usually in more secluded areas — not the middle of a downtown.
There are things companies can do to minimize an outage. One is rerouting data around the trouble spot. Another is deploying mobile units to restore service once it’s gone out. AT&T did both.
The concept of making networks more resilient is on the minds of companies. But “unfortunately, we only tackle these kinds of problems when they are already knocking at our door,” Natalino says.
He says going forward, companies and governments must work together to rethink network design and plan for disasters. Natalino says they also need to “provide better means to the public services to have a back-up solution.”
In fact, network resilience expert David Hutchison of Lancaster University in the UK says he thinks the biggest lesson of this attack is for government and local authorities.
“Communication networks represent a major critical infrastructure in the modern world, and they need to become the urgent focus of disaster planning,” he says.
He advocates for more investment in researching and implementing ways to protect networks from both natural and man-made disasters.
“Companies shouldn’t be expected to fund this on their own,” he says, since resilience is an important — and costly — common good. “After all, as this new incident demonstrates only too well, it’s communications services that authorities and people turn to in the aftermath of a disaster.”