By the early hours of Aug. 30 at police headquarters, water was rising in the elevator shafts, approaching the second-floor communications equipment. Police Capt. Stephen Gordon began the evacuation of 120 operators. "It was like getting on the ark," he said later.
They were evacuated by boat to the city convention center. Gordon determined it was impossible to set up a makeshift call center there and ended up spending the next two nights sleeping on a hotel ballroom floor.
All the while, Gordon said, he believed the telephone company was transferring emergency calls to the state police.
While Gordon was trying to keep his crew safe, 82 BellSouth employees worked in chaos downtown. Although they had generators, food and water, police reported a National Guard unit had come under attack and their safety could not be guaranteed, Smith said. The day after the hurricane, under state police escort, the BellSouth workers fled to Baton Rouge.
In the meantime, BellSouth began rerouting 911 calls to an administrative line inside the flooded police building on South Broad Street that Gordon had abandoned days earlier. "We couldn't find anybody to ask them where to send the calls to," said company spokesman Jeff Batcher.
New Orleans officials remember it differently. Police Maj. James Treadway recounted a conference call with BellSouth officials late on Aug. 29, in which the company said some central offices were failing. "We asked them why other jurisdictions were getting our 911 calls and they didn't really have an explanation," Treadway said.
Tuesday, November 08, 2005