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RTP Labs Help Make Sure Phone Equipment Works During Disasters

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RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK — Natural disasters like floods, earthquakes and hurricanes often bring everything to a stand-still, except for the most part, phone service. A new test facility in Research Triangle Park helps companies make sure phone equipment will make it through "the big one."

Inside a Research Triangle building, natural disasters are created un-naturally. Requirements for phone-related equipment, called Network Equipment Building System, make telephone service very reliable.

Underwriters Laboratories tests for everything from airborne contaminants to earthquakes up to seven on the Richter scale.

"If the frame were to deflect more than 3 inches, potentially it could hit other equipment," an employee says as a machine tests a piece of equipment's ability to stand up to an earthquake.

Testing electronic gear like this gives some assurance the phone systems will work when telecommunications are critical.

"The big telephone companies take a lot of pride in having their products withstand almost any event, natural disasters, things like that," says engineering consultant Rob Glenn.

Things like operating in rare, high altitude air in the freezing temperatures of the Arctic, or the heat of deserts.

There is good reason for UL to put this special lab at its RTP site.

"Nortel, Cisco, Siemens, Ericsson, Alcatel, Tekelec; they're all within a 50-mile radius," says team leader Arnold Sheldon.

Proper packaging is tested by dropping it using a special machine. A vibration table checks to see how equipment stands up to being moved in a truck or train.

UL does not certify equipment; it simply passes along results to the manufacturer. And it is all done so you can "pick up the phone" when times are bad.

The Underwriter's Laboratory in RTP is one of five in the U.S. The company tests more than 18,000 products each year.


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