Prepared for the worst

Several readers wrote in after last week's column to ask whether it was a good idea to tell the bad guys about One Wilshire -- the carrier hotel inhabited by a bunch of Tier 1 service providers -- and how to find it.

Reader Charlie Clarke wrote: "I found your column extremely interesting and extremely disturbing. I may simply be unnecessarily paranoid, but as an IT person in a Southern California financial institution, I found that the revelations in your column about the amount of network infrastructure at a specific address (in not one but two buildings) on a specifically identified busy street corner in downtown L.A. sent me into a cold sweat."

Clarke continued: "Pre-9/11, I wouldn't have given it a second thought, but now it seems foolhardy at the very least to toss out such specific information when a general nod toward 'buildings on the west side of L.A.' would have sufficed. A truck bomb of the type used to devastate the Murrow Building in Oklahoma City would do untold damage to this vital network infrastructure."

I asked John Savageau, managing director of CRG West, the company that owns One Wilshire, for comment, and he replied: "This is a frequent topic of conversation. We are well known by agencies watching this type of activity, and we are at the end of a very short tether for emergency services within L.A. -- as are all our colleagues in the industry."

Savageau pointed out that it isn't just One Wilshire and the other carrier hotel facilities in downtown L.A. that are at risk. The stakes are far greater than that and, as a consequence, there are a lot more people paying attention to the entire area's safety than we're aware of.

Savageau went on to note that we live in a packet world, and nearly all the United States and international carriers in One Wilshire have replaced or are replacing circuit switch and Digital Access Carrier System equipment with softswitches and Dense Wavelength-Division Multiplexing gear. "There is an alternate route available for nearly all services through Las Vegas or Northern California serving all facilities-based carriers in Los Angeles -- all interconnected at numerous L.A. and L.A.-area fiber-optic terminals supporting both metro and long-distance cable.

"Yes, a [9/11 style disaster] at One Wilshire would cause serious damage to global communications in the short term," he said. "However, with all the talented and dedicated telecom engineers in L.A. and the global community, I am confident all but the smallest single-threaded operations would be recovered within a surprisingly short amount of time. One Wilshire is important due to the proximity and ease of interconnection. However, that interconnection can occur in many places."

That really underlines what humans have created: A global communications system that does, as intended, route around damage.

Savageau concluded by pointing out that his "office is smack at the intersection of Wilshire and Grand. As I type this message I am confident not only in our security, the intelligence of our public safety, national/international anti-terrorist agencies, and first responders to reinforce security at One Wilshire, but also in our industry's ability to recover from disaster. . . . We have had this discussion many, many times with a lot of different people in governments (we do hold a key role in the national interests of many countries), companies and law enforcement. Can't give you details, but I am confident we'll continue to meet the needs of our industry for a long time."

I found his perspective refreshing in the face of the alarmism that appears whenever terrorism is discussed. In IT we know we can never be truly safe, but we're smart enough to be prepared to deal with the worst if it ever happens. Perhaps we need to have telecom people in charge of the Federal Emergency Management Agency?

Comments to backspin@gibbs.com. To join the Gibbs Irregulars go to www.gibbs.com/girr.htm.

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