Some emergency 911 calls to dispatch centers throughout Washington and parts of Oregon failed to go through in the early morning hours Thursday, April 10, because of a problem with the system operated by CenturyLink, the phone company and emergency officials said.
Service was restored by 6:30 a.m. in Oregon and 8 a.m. in Washington, said Kerry Zimmer, a CenturyLink spokeswoman in Spokane.
There were no reports of emergencies where people could not get help because of the outage, said Zimmer and Washington state Emergency Management Division spokeswoman Wendy Freitag.
"I guess overnight was a good time," for an outage, Zimmer said. "But no 911 outage is good."
As soon as Whatcom County dispatchers and first responders became aware of the outage, Whatcom Unified Emergency Management representatives worked with local law enforcement and fire leadership to ensure that emergency response would still run in the county, said Bellingham Police Lt. Bob Vander Yacht.
The group established an alternate emergency number - 360-676-6911 - and shared the number through police and emergency management Twitter accounts, as well as the media. The number was also posted on reader boards on Interstate 5.
The group also made sure that fire and police stations through the county were properly staffed so people in need could go there for immediate assistance.
The service to dozens of emergency dispatch centers is a priority because of the safety issue, Zimmer said. CenturyLink serves all of the centers because they are linked.
A problem was first reported about 1:30 a.m. at Sheridan, Ore. The problems in Oregon and Washington were isolated and not connected, Zimmer said.
The cause of the outages is unknown and Zimmer couldn't speculate on whether it could be computer hacking or an equipment problem. At some centers, a phone line or two continued to work; at others, all of the lines were out of service.
During the outage, people with emergencies were advised to use a cellphone, which sometimes worked better than a land line. They also could try non-emergency numbers for dispatchers. Some were posted on highway reader boards.
People also were advised to go to a fire station in person if they could not call for help.
The state Emergency Management Division, which coordinates dispatch centers and makes contingency plans, will look into what went wrong, Freitag said.
"Is there some vulnerability or gap we need to fill? I'm sure it will be done very thoroughly in this case," she said.