Washington

State AG investigating if 911 outage affected you

911 callers in Benton and Franklin counties had trouble getting through to emergency dispatchers at the Southeast Communications Center in Richland because of a nationwide outage in late December.
911 callers in Benton and Franklin counties had trouble getting through to emergency dispatchers at the Southeast Communications Center in Richland because of a nationwide outage in late December. Tri-City Herald

The recent 911 outage sent dispatch centers across the Northwest scrambling, but the Tri-Cities appears to have escaped any serious problems.

On Tuesday, state Attorney General Bob Ferguson issued a call for people affected by last month’s 911 outage to contact his office.

It came days after dispatch center leaders gathered to talk about how they handled the emergency calls that failed to ring through to police and fire dispatchers for more than 12 hours.

It will likely take months before someone determines what caused the phones to the Southeast Communications Center to go silent around 8:30 p.m. on Dec. 27, said Manager Kim Lettrick.

When they realized there was a problem, they spread the word through news organizations, social media and emergency alert systems about a different emergency number to call.

Officials don’t know how many calls they handled during the disruption.

So far, Lettrick has not heard of anyone who had a problem getting emergency help, nor are there any reports of major issues statewide.

“We were fortunate that nothing tragic happened,” she said. “We were lucky it wasn’t on a hot summer day or on a weekend.”

The brought in an administrative assistant on overtime pay to help with social media, but otherwise the dispatch center and Benton County Emergency Services had no increased costs.

The state Utilities and Transportation Commission and the Federal Communications Commission have started investigations into the outage.

The state’s team of investigators are trying to determine whether CenturyLink violated any of the rules guiding how they operate. It will focus both on whether the outage could have been prevented and how they responded to it, said Amanda Maxwell, a commission spokesperson.

The state investigation is expected to last six to 18 months.

CenturyLink’s outage is the largest to hit the state since 2014, said Ferguson’s office. That six-hour outage stopped nearly 6,000 calls from reaching dispatchers.

Ferguson urged the commission to impose the maximum $11.5 million penalty for the 2014 incident. The three-person board imposed $2.9 million instead.

Anyone affected by the recent outage can reach the attorney general’s office by emailing 911outage@atg.wa.gov.

Cameron Probert covers breaking news and education for the Tri-City Herald, where he tries to answer readers’ questions about why police officers and firefighters are in your neighborhood. He studied communications at Washington State University.

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