When the EP went incommunicado
By : Abdulateef Al-Mulhim
Last Thursday, I had to visit Alkhobar to attend to some important matters. Usually on Thursdays, one is always on the run because it is the last day of the week and if one fails to get his works done then everything is put off till Sunday.
I was scheduled to meet with a high-ranking official of a very large business concern. When I entered the company premises, there was visible panic among the employees I met and everyone was asking for the company’s IT engineer responsible for all the communications and IT-related services. The landlines and the Internet service of the company were down for no apparent reason. To the surprise of many, it later turned out that the entire Eastern Province (EP) was experiencing this problem.
In the meantime, all sorts of rumors started doing the rounds. Finally, it was revealed that there was some technical issue with the Saudi Telecommunications Company (STC).
This company and others had important communications, electronic time sheets and what is more, the company like the others had to be in touch with their employees on the field. I had to leave the company because my meeting had to be rescheduled.
It also turned out that the communication disruption had affected border and passport control, landlines communication, mobile services and the Internet. The Eastern Province was in the dark for three long hours. Many passengers were stranded at King Fahad Causeway and the other entry and exit points connecting the Eastern Province with the other Gulf states. Many were not able to do any transactions at banks or via the ATM machines. I shudder with the thought that what if somebody needed an ambulance or any other emergency services like firefighting etc.
This incident calls for the availability of alternative plans of actions on part of all major or key service providers. Service providers should also make arrangements to keep the customers or consumers in the loop to avoid spread of rumors. Had people been aware of the technical issues, they would have rearranged their schedules.
There were many people stranded at the shopping malls because they had no means to tell their family members of their exact whereabouts. The cut off was few hours long, but, it a real security threat.
The authorities should plan more lines to carry the heavy load of communication. Relying on one source is very unsafe. Nowadays, the modern modes of communication have become the lifeline of the daily life. The service provider should devise alternative plans in case of a similar incident. There should be some backup plans so as to avoid confusion in future. The Kingdom cannot afford to remain cutoff from the world even for a few minutes due to its strategic importance. In addition to that many people and businesses lose huge amounts of money due to communication failure. This time around the problem was fixed within a few hours but no one really knows the real loses incurred during that time.