Here’s yet another reminder of the vulnerability of our interconnected global economy and communications networks. If you’re having trouble calling Southeast Asia today, it might be because yesterday’s strong earthquake off Taiwan, which killed two people, also damaged undersea cables connecting the region and the rest of the world. One article called it “a collapse of the virtual world.”
AT&T, the biggest U.S. phone company, said the 7.1 magnitude quake has caused Internet delays on traffic within Asia, and disruption to voice calls between the U.S. and much of the region, including Hong Kong, Japan and China. Chunghwa, Taiwan’s biggest phone operator, said the cables could take two or three weeks to repair.
A tsunami alert after the quake was particularly haunting for the region, coming on the second anniversary of the Asian tsunami that killed more than 220,000 people in 2004, unleashed by a 9.1 magnitude quake off of Indonesia. Fortunately this one produced no large waves.
The main damage was virtual: stock traders’ electronic information ground to a halt, and DHL’s freight forwarding operation in Taipei was resorting to typewriters. As bizarre as that seems, it’s an interesting point that in our digital age, having a few non-digital alternatives might be a wise policy.