By Mike Taylor and Elisabeth Waldon
Information regarding the cause of Monday’s cell and landline phone outages in Ionia and Montcalm counties was still somewhat sketchy Tuesday morning, though representatives from Verizon say the problem was caused by a severed fiber optic cable in Grattan Township.
Phone service for hundreds of customers in the Greenville and Belding areas went down around 4 p.m. Monday and was not restored until approximately 11 p.m. The disruption affected Central Dispatch services in Montcalm and Ionia counties. According to Nancy Rodriguez, administrative assistant at Ionia Central Dispatch, the outages hampered the organization’s ability to respond to emergency situations.
“There were problems,” Rodruguez said. “We lost a portion of our 911 service and lost connectivity to some fax machines and also the state law enforcement network. Our director was in direct contact with the parties working to repair it. Everything is working now.”
Montcalm County Undersheriff Mark Bellinger noted that few communications options exist if both land lines and cell phones are simultaneously disrupted. Bellinger did suggest using social networking tools such as Facebook, email and Twitter to maintain contact with authorities, friends and neighbors.
“If communication is hampered, it is a good idea to review your family safety plan,” Bellinger said. “The plan should include neighbors or other persons that have communications with the sheriff’s department in time of emergency.”
According to Verizon Public Relations Manager Michelle Gilbert, the outage affected seven sites in Greenville.
“There was an outage from the landline provider,” Gilbert said. “The problem was on their end. It affected more than just Verizon. These things happen from time to time. It’s not highly unusual. It could have been caused by someone working in the area. This time it was due to the vendor. I’m at their mercy when it comes to getting information from them.”
Montcalm County Central Dispatch immediately sent out a GRAIL (Grand Rapids Area Information Line) alert providing area media sources and other organizations with alternate emergency contact information.
The Greenville Meijer store, as well as Leppink’s in Belding were unable to accept debit cards during the outage. Many other area businesses were similarly affected.