Congressman calls for investigation into repeated utility outages in eastern Arizona

Congressman Tom O’Halleran sent a letter to the Arizona Attorney General Thursday asking the AG to investigate whether the outages are a result of negligence.
Published: Jun. 16, 2022 at 7:23 PM MST
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APACHE AND NAVAJO COUNTIES (3TV/CBS 5) - A major development in the Frontier Communications failure in Apache and Navajo counties — a congressman has now called on the Arizona Attorney General to investigate the situation for possible negligence by Frontier because it left people in danger and unable to call 911 for days. And this isn’t the first time it has happened.

St. Johns Mayor Spence Udall said they might only be a rural city of 3,500, but that shouldn’t matter when it comes to basic needs. “We’re not just a bunch of accounts up here; these are people. And communications are vital now,” he said.

St. Johns was one of the areas without any communication last Saturday through Monday after what officials said was a complete ‘Frontier Communications’ failure due to a vandalized fiber wire. That led to zero capability to call from cell phones, landlines, use internet, and even get through to 911. “Now that we have some backing, I think that we’ll finally be able to maybe get something done,” Udall said.

He’s praising congressman Tom O’Halleran, who sent a letter to the Arizona Attorney General Thursday asking the AG to investigate whether the outages are a result of negligence. He says his office has received reports of significant and frequent outages in communications, and it appears little has been done to fix it or prevent future outages from happening.

“We had the same thing happen in 2015 where the same line in a different spot was shot. And we’re doing it again? “We saw our vulnerability then; why didn’t we come up with a backup system?” said Navajo County Sheriff David Clouse.

Sheriff Clouse said while Apache County had a total blackout for three days, Navajo County’s outage was intermittent because they do have access to other carriers, but it was a hassle trying to get their 911 system back online with a band-aid situation. “We had our dispatchers that were literally answering cell phones because we had them routed to different providers on cell phones,” Clouse said.

Officials said during that outage, a man died, and several people were injured who needed ambulances and couldn’t call them. O’Halloran’s letter points to other incidents, including a fire at an airport and an incident at a power plant.

Udall works at that power plant and said a third of their operations failed. Since they couldn’t call anybody for help, they went door to door trying to find people to help with repairs. “That’s a big deal on these hot days, it’s a huge deal,” said Udall.

He hopes big political players getting involved will change things. “We feel like with their help, it actually becomes a real voice one we haven’t had up until now,” said Udall.

This is already an open investigation within the Arizona Corporation Commission. The Attorney General’s office told Arizona’s Family they received O’Halloran’s letter and are reviewing the serious concerns to determine what actions may be appropriate for them to take.

As for Frontier, they did not get back to us on Thursday when we asked for an updated response. But after our original story earlier this week, they did tell Arizona’s Family they’re offering a $10,000 reward leading to the arrest of the person who vandalized the wire and are committed to providing critical infrastructure.