When terrified workers in lower Manhattan had some sense of what was unfolding yesterday, many instinctively reached for a phone.
Employees at Verizon, the communications provider located near the World Trade Center, experienced a massive communications disaster and anguish of human loss after two commercial jet planes crashed into both towers.
One tower contained approximately 500 Verizon workers.
During an emotional press conference today, executives for Verizon described efforts to restore phone service to one of the world's busiest telecommunications areas, and an account of workers who attempted to escape the upper levels of the north tower by heading toward the roof of the 110-floor building.
Yesterday's destructive attacks on the World Trade Center caused both towers to collapse, and, hours later, 7 World Trade Center to crumble, causing phone service in and around the area to be disrupted and extensive damage to buildings. (In fact, VARBusiness and its sister sites, CRN.com and ChannelWeb.com, were among those organizations affected. Connectivity between the publications and their web servers was routed through 7 World Trade Center, and lost when the building collapsed. Connectivity was restored approximately 15 hours later.)
Verizon's networks experienced heavy call volume--about double the norm--and cellular phone traffic was 50 to 100 percent higher than normal, said Larry Babbio, vice chairman and president of the telecom group at Verizon.
"The area where the destruction took place is probably the most telecommunications-intensive area in the world," said Babbio, who is also the senior executive in charge of the company's network. "We have 19 separate offices that serve the area with 2 million lines. Five of the offices are south of 14th street with 500,000 lines."
Babbio said he could not estimate the amount of people without phone service this afternoon.
Verizon's largest central office, located at 140 West Street, is directly adjacent to where 7 World Trade Center once stood. That office is the primary location that feeds the entire World Trade Center area with 200,000 lines, and another 3 million private lines.
Verizon's building at 140 West Street was damaged when 7 World Trade Center collapsed and steel penetrated the building. Smoke, soot and debris also damage the building and equipment, Babbio said.
"Water was pouring through the basement into the lower levels of the building down the stairwells," said Babbio, who visited the building today. "Obviously, when cables get wet, service gets interrupted. It goes without saying that there's no commercial power in that building."
Generators were brought in to provide temporary power to the area, Babbio said.
Verizon's Broad Street office provides primary communication service to the New York Stock Exchange. Nearly 80 percent of the New York Stock Exchange's private circuits come through the Broad Street office, with the remaining 20 percent from 140 West Street.
"We're trying to get them back online, but they're on generators right now. This could be a very long process," Babbio said. "We have to be very careful about how we do this and the extent of the work that we have to do here, I think, is enormous."
Backup communication services were provided for 911 traffic with redundant networks, said Babbio, and emergency services organizations were provided hundreds of additional lines for hospitals and other emergency sites.
Approximately 5,000 cell phones were distributed to emergency services workers, Babbio said. Lower Manhattan lost about 10 cell sites and Verizon was able to install seven new cell sites in New York City, New Jersey, Washington, D.C. and just outside of Pittsburgh.
The Pentagon, which was also struck by a commercial plane yesterday, continues to operate as close to normal as possible with some scattered service disruptions, Babbio said.
"Our switching equipment is still working and providing service there, however we have mixed reports about whether there are fires in the building," Babbio said. "There's the potential that if the fire spreads, it is in the area of our switching equipment. But again, we are covering it and trying to contain it."
Moments after the first plane crashed into the north tower around 8:45 a.m., at least one of several communication technicians trapped in north tower used a cell phone.
"We know for a fact that a number of employees who worked for the Genuity company, which is associated with us, called us from the roof or on their way to the roof, because they couldn't get out any other way," said Babbio with a shaken voice.
"There were three or four employees in the building that we heard from who said they had attempted to get to the roof because they said they were above the point where the first plane made the impact," Babbio said. "We have not heard from them and obviously, they're presumed dead."
Those workers were technicians who were manning equipment locations throughout the tower, Babbio said. Their names were not released.
Most of the nearly 500 Verizon employees were on lower levels of the tower such as the 12th floor and have been accounted for, Babbio said.