Downtown Nashville’s Christmas Day bombing led to significant phone and data service outages and disruptions across hundreds of miles in the Southeast, raising new concerns about communications vulnerabilities.
The blast seriously damaged a major AT&T network facility, an important hub that provides local wireless, internet and video service and connects to regional networks. Backup generators went down, which took service out hours after the blast. A fire broke out and forced an evacuation. The building flooded, with more than three feet of water later pumped out of the basement; AT&T told the Associated Press there was still water on the second floor in early January.
The immediate repercussions were surprisingly widespread. AT&T customers lost service — phones, internet or video — across large parts of Tennessee, Kentucky and Alabama. There were 911 centers in the region that couldn’t take calls; others didn’t receive crucial data associated with callers, such as their locations. The Nashville police department’s phones and internet failed. Stores went cash-only, according to the AP and media reports.
At some hospitals, electronic medical records, internet service or phones stopped working. The Nashville airport halted flights for about three hours on Christmas. Rival carrier T-Mobile also had service issues as far away as Atlanta – 250 miles away – because the company uses AT&T equipment for moving customer data from towers to the T-Mobile network, according to the AP.
The explosion, which took place in the heart of the Nashville’s historic downtown, killed the bomber, injured several people and damaged dozens of buildings. Federal officials are investigating the motive and haven’t said whether the AT&T building was specifically targeted.
AT&T said 96% of its wireless network has been restored.
AT&T set up temporary cell towers to help in affected areas and rerouted traffic to other facilities as it worked to restore power to the Nashville building. But not all traffic can be rerouted, spokesperson Jim Greer told the AP, and there was physical equipment that had to be fixed in a building that was part of an active crime scene, which complicated AT&T workers’ access.
The impact on emergency services may have raised the most serious flags. At one point, nearly 100 911 centers had service problems in Tennessee alone, said Brian Fontes, head of the National Emergency Number Association.
Nashville Mayor John Cooper and experts like Fontes also gave AT&T credit for their work on reinstating services.
Local authorities turned to social media on Christmas Day, posting on Facebook and Twitter that 911 was down and trying to reassure residents by offering other numbers to call.
The Nashville police department uses the FirstNet system built by AT&T, which the carrier boasts can provide “fast, highly reliable interoperable communications” in emergencies and that is meant to prioritize first responders when networks are stressed. But the department had to turn to a backup provider, CenturyLink, for its landlines and internet at headquarters and precincts and obtained loaner cellphones and mobile hotspots from Verizon, according to media reports.
The Parthenon, the world’s only to-scale replica of the Parthenon in Athens, located about three miles from the explosion, still didn’t have a working phone four days after the blast. But its credit-card system recently came back online.
It’s not as if the physical vulnerability of communications networks comes as a surprise. Natural disasters like hurricanes frequently wipe out service as the power goes out and wind, water or fire damage infrastructure. Recovery can take days, weeks or even longer. Hurricane Maria left Puerto Rico in a near communications blackout with destroyed telephone poles, cell towers and power lines. Six months later there were still areas without service.
Pfizer Rebrands in the Midst of Global COVID Vaccine Rollout
As Pfizer raced to develop a Covid-19 vaccine while the world looked on, the pharmaceutical giant was also quietly at work on remaking its brand.
Earlier this week, the company launched its first major rebrand in decades with a new logo, an effort to highlight the company’s shift from a diversified health care giant to one more focused on creating prescription drugs and vaccines that prevent and cure disease, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The logo replaces the oval, pill-like shape that had enclosed the Pfizer name since 1880 with a helix design to the left of the company name.
While pharma giants tend to focus on marketing individual products through highly regulated ads and public relations, building corporate brand equity is also important to companies that rely on health care professionals to recommend and authorize the use of their prescription drugs.
Although the branding effort was under way long before the pandemic, the company is introducing its new logo and marketing materials as its achievements in developing a vaccine with BioNTech are widely celebrated.
“This is a rare moment in time for the company and the industry,” Sally Susman, chief corporate affairs officer at Pfizer told the Journal. “It’s important when making a visual change to do so from a position of strength.”
Throughout the pandemic, consumers have garnered more positive feelings toward the pharmaceutical industry and shown an interest in how drugs and vaccines come to market, prompting historically reticent pharma giants to promote their corporate brands and communicate more openly about their internal processes.
Pfizer paused its rebranding efforts in 2020 to focus on its corporate marketing and communications around the pandemic and its work to manufacture and distribute a vaccine, Ms. Susman told the Journal.
She and her team embarked on a robust research effort to find a logo that would demonstrate the company’s elevated scientific mission. Pfizer polled more than 4,000 patients and 2,000 doctors across multiple countries and held 12 internal focus groups across regions where the company operates. The company narrowed 200 designs down to four and eventually selected the winning logo.
As part of the rebrand, the company will begin a video and advertising campaign that carries the theme of its existing “Science Will Win” campaign. The video features scientists in personal protective gear hard at work while a narrator reads a script that humanizes science.
» TODD SMITH is co-founder, president and chief executive officer of Deane | Smith, a full-service branding, PR, marketing and advertising firm with offices in Jackson. The firm – based in Nashville, Tenn. – is also affiliated with Mad Genius. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow him @spinsurgeon and like the ageny on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/deanesmithpartners, and join us on LinkedIn http://www.linkedin.com/company/deane-smith-&-partners.