Homeland Security and Public Safety

How a Washington County Adapted to the Statewide 911 Outage

Lewis County residents were unable to call 911 for more than five hours after an unknown technical issue with CenturyLink caused a statewide outage with the emergency system.

Jessica Mulholland

Lewis County residents were unable to call 911 for more than five hours early this morning after an unknown technical issue with CenturyLink caused a statewide outage with the emergency system.

It was unclear this morning if any emergency, life-threatening or otherwise, went unreported in Lewis County, said Lewis County Central Dispatch Manager Craig Larsen.

Jennifer Ducummon with the Lewis County Dispatch Center sent out an email to local media outlets at about 1:15 a.m. advising that 911 lines were down for Lewis, Thurston, Clark and Cowlitz counties. A short time later, Ducummon sent out an email advising that the outage was statewide, not just in the South Sound area.

Ducummon said the non-emergency business line for the dispatch centers throughout the state was not affected by the outage and requested anyone having an emergency call the non-emergency line.

While temporary 911 outages are not unheard of and Lewis County has experienced a few in the past, one of this size and length is unprecedented, Larsen said.

"This is the biggest I ever heard," he said.

While The Associated Press reported that 911 calls from landlines were affected more so than calls from cellphones, Larsen said Lewis County could not receive any sort of 911 phone call from any sort of phone.

After realizing an outage was taking place, dispatchers notified all the fire departments, who then manned their stations throughout the county, he said. They also notified law enforcement so they could make an additional presence throughout the community.

"We were staffed, out in the field, and there ready to respond," Larsen said.

After the Chehalis Fire Department was notified of the outage at about 1 a.m., Capt. Kevin Curfman said extra people came into the station so three emergency vehicles, including a fire truck, an ambulance and a department pick up truck, could drive around the city, just in case.

Someone also stayed at the station so if someone having an emergency directly called the station or showed up, emergency crews could help them, Curfman said. The department, however, did not respond to any emergencies during the outage.

Acting Capt. Jesse Berry with Riverside Fire Authority said Riverside, which is the county's biggest emergency medical services response agency, did not respond to any emergencies either.

Berry said firefighters planned on manning their own station phones in case someone who was unable to get through to 911 called the station instead.

By 6:30 a.m., 911 service had been restored to Lewis County, however, as of press time, several places in Washington were still experiencing the outage.

The service occurred statewide because all the emergency dispatch centers are tied together, according to The Associated Press.

CenturyLink spokeswoman Kerry Zimmer told The Associated Press that the problem began about 1:30 a.m. Thursday at Sheridan, Ore., and Oregon was affected for a time. It was restored in Oregon early Thursday morning, but service remained out in parts of Washington.

Another spokeswoman, Jan Kampbell, told The Associated Press that technicians are working to solve the problem.

Until service is restored, Zimmer recommends that people with an emergency try a 911 call from a cell phone, which sometimes works better than a landline. Alternatively, people could go to their nearest fire station for help.

The non-emergency business line for the Lewis County Dispatch Center is (360) 740-1105.

©2014 The Chronicle (Centralia, Wash.)

 

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