'Someone dropped the ball' Concerns raised after bombing knocks out critical communication hub

Posted at 5:17 PM, Dec 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-29 19:42:44-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — The Christmas bombing has raised concerns regarding the vulnerability of key communication infrastructure in Tennessee.

The RV explosion caused significant damage to AT&T's transmission hub that’s located on Second Avenue. The blast knocked out service for customers, and 911 emergency centers were impacted in multiple states. Doug Schmidt, a professor of computer science at Vanderbilt University, describes the building as Grand Central Station.

"From this point of view, and it’s very clear that someone dropped the ball from the risk analysis that had been done in this case," Schmidt said. “The key point was that there was a central point of failure that when the explosion happened, no one had anticipated, clearly caused a lot of side effects that we weren’t expecting."

Schmidt said usually these types of facilities are in secluded areas.

"A lot of the data centers you would see by companies like Amazon or Google, are out in the middle of nowhere, typically close to a hydroelectric plant with lots and lots of physical security," he said.

An AT&T spokesperson said they're focused on restoring service to all their customers. Decades ago, the building was owned by one of the Bell companies. When it was built, a bombing of this magnitude probably wasn't on their radar.

"This kind of change doesn’t come for free. Undoubtedly one reason why that facility has been there as long as it has is it’s very expensive to try and replicate it," Schmidt said.

As 911 systems come back online, many people are wondering what safeguards will be put in place in the future.

"The price of liberty is eternal vigilance, and so we have to make sure that we are more vigilant about all kinds of threats physical and cyber if we want to be able to continue living the lifestyle that we have, which is increasingly virtual these days," Schmidt said.

According to investigators, the bomber's father worked at AT&T at one point. Federal agents have not yet determined a motive.