Internet Damage On 9/11 Was Minor

By: Siobhan McDonough, Associated Press Writer

(AP) The Internet performed well under the strain of the Sept. 11 attacks, but more planning is needed to ensure another disaster doesn’t cause greater disruption, according to a National Academy of Sciences report released Wednesday.

The damage to the Internet on Sept. 11 was minimal when the collapse of the World Trade Center buildings crushed communications equipment and networks, according to the National Research Council of the National Academies. However, the Internet isn’t foolproof — there are some operational issues that Internet service providers and users need to deal with to better prepare for and respond to future emergencies.

“You don’t have to worry about someone running around cutting wires, and someone can’t place a bomb in a few places and cause the Internet to stop working,” said Craig Partridge, chairman of the committee that wrote the report. “The Internet is almost completely safe from physical attack.”

Many Internet users, private data networks, and Internet service providers are based in New York City. Multiple fiber-optic grids run beneath its streets and many trans-Atlantic cables come ashore nearby.

In New York, people had trouble communicating for a good part of Sept. 11, said Partridge. Ninety-five percent of cell phone calls at 11 a.m. failed to get through. Television stations were knocked off the air because antennas were on top of the towers. After the second World Trade Center tower collapsed, 8% of Internet addresses were unavailable for about 5 minutes. After that, about 2% remained off-line for an extended period.

No serious communications problems resulted from the plane that crashed into the Pentagon.

In studying how the Internet was used during Sept. 11, NAS found that people used the Internet as a backup to the good old standbys of television and the telephone. Online news services got 10 times more news requests than usual.

Most of the damage to the Internet was isolated to New York City and a few other locations, and most of it was quickly remedied through improvisation, the rapid deployment of new equipment, and the rerouting of Internet traffic to bypass failed parts.

The report outlined the biggest concerns: electronic attacks on the Internet and operators failing to anticipate problems from electronic and physical outages.

Some findings:

* Internet news sites need to be prepared for large jumps of traffic in a crisis situation.

* Internet operations depend on the public telephone network, so telecommunications facility disaster planning should factor in support for operational personnel.

* Key businesses and services that must operate in a disaster should examine their dependence on Internet connections and plan accordingly.

* Network operators and telecommunications operators should review their emergency power procedures.

The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit society of scholars focusing on scientific and engineering research.

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