Communication Breakdown

by Felix S. Wong, Principal; Weidlinger Associates, Inc., Los Altos, CA,
Jeremy Isenberg, President and CEO; Weidlinger Associates, Inc., New York,

Serial Information: Civil Engineering—ASCE, 1996, Vol. 66, Issue 1, Pg. 52-54

Document Type: Feature article


Are modern telecommunications networks vulnerable to earthquakes? Researchers say yes, and have developed a computer tool to quantify potential economic impacts. Telecommunications service is vital to the coordination and execution of life-saving actions after an earthquake and yet, telecommunications systems are themselves vulnerable to earthquake. Twenty years after the San Fernando earthquake, seismic protection of telecommunication assets has advanced to the point where direct failure of critical equipment is unlikely. However, a two-year, $120,000 National Science Foundation study that we conducted found that failure is now more likely to be caused by collateral damage (e.g., to host building, non-structural elements) and failure of supporting lifelines (e.g. loss of power, water, and through fire). Several trends in the telecommunications industry contributed to the kind of network vulnerability we discovered. With new technologies such as fiber optics, more lines can be placed in fewer trunks and fewer offices are needed, so damage to any one has greater impact. This trend will accelerate as preparation for broadband integrated services digital networking BISDN and common channel signaling continue, with voice, data, information and miscellaneous services sharing the same architecture.

Subject Headings: Communication systems | Earthquakes | Infrastructure vulnerability | Failure analysis | Power outage | Hydro power | Water leakage and water loss

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