Ruined facility not considered high risk so had no failsafe
Although a fire broke out in just one of KT’s hundreds of telecommunications switching centers nationwide, five major districts in Seoul lost phone connectivity and wireless internet. Even parts of Gyeonggi, close to Seoul, were affected by the fire.
How did KT’s Ahyeon switching station in Seodaemun District, western Seoul, affect so many people and create such widespread chaos?
The fallout is largely due to the Ahyeon building’s location and its role within the network. Though it was one of the major stations covering several central districts in Seoul and housed a huge amount of telecommunications infrastructure - 168,000 landline phone lines and 220 sets of fiber optic cables - it was only categorized at level D in terms of importance by KT and the government.
Rerouting traffic, a failsafe that level D facilities are not equipped with, would have kept all telecommunications systems on line.
“As for level A facilities, considered the most important, the telecommunications infrastructure, including the cables, are physically duplicated for such accidents like fires,” a spokesperson from KT said. “But that wasn’t the case for level D facilities.”
Carriers are not mandated to install expensive back-up systems for D level facilities like the Ahyeon building, and Oh said it is expensive and time consuming for carriers to build alternative infrastructure for every facility.
Under the current law, sprinklers, fire alarm systems and fire extinguishers are mandated only in basement tunnels that are 500 meters (1,640 feet) or longer and are connected to various services such as water, electricity and gas. KT’s tunnel, however, didn’t house water, electricity or gas systems.
It was also only 150 meters in length, which meant it didn’t need to have a full fire extinguishing system in place.
On the day of the accident, a Saturday, there were only two employees at work to take care of the situation. This also delayed the response.
There were also only a small number of fire extinguishers inside the building to use. If the fire had been detected earlier, it could have been easier to suppress.
From the corporate customers’ side, it is safer to subscribe to multiple mobile carriers for electronic payment or internet payment systems, but not many do so as it costs twice as much.
BY KIM JEE-HEE, PARK MIN-JE [firstname.lastname@example.org]
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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