Emergency call centers across the nation were unable to be contacted through 911 when the internet provider CenturyLink went down.
Official alerts went out to western Washington state residents at around 11:30 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 27, but social media was alive with warnings and valuable emergency contact information beforehand.
The issue appeared to be mostly resolved roughly 12 hours later, with an official King County press release sent out at 10:40 a.m. on Friday, Dec. 28 stating calls were starting to come through via 911.
Many local residents may have received a text message or other sort of alert on their phones that Thursday Night, reading “Widespread 911 outage in WA. In case of emergency, call local police or fire department.”
This was the first time the state used its own cellphone push alert system, according to the Seattle Times, “a capability it only gained on Dec. 11, after months of development and testing,” the article read.
The alert was similar to a Presidential Alert that was sent out nation-wide early October. This was also the first time the federal government attempted push alert to the whole county.
It’s still not clear what happened on CenturyLink’s end that caused the problem.
“We are aware of some 911 service disruptions affecting various areas through the United States,” the company wrote on their Twitter account the morning of Dec. 28. “In case of an emergency, customers should use their wireless phones to call 911 or drive to the nearest fire station or emergency facility. Technicians are working to restore services.”
The outage has caused the Federal Communications Commission to investigate, with chairman Ajit Pai calling the breath and duration of the outage “completely unacceptable.”
On a local level, it appears the Enumclaw and Bonney Lake police departments had little issue with the outage.
Enumclaw Police Chief Bob Heubler said, “We have no record of anyone who tried to call and couldn’t get through,” and added that as soon as the department knew calls weren’t coming through, dispatchers notified all of the city’s 24-hour businesses and informed them to use the department’s business line, rather than 911.
Over in Bonney Lake, Sgt. Ryan Boyle said he knows of only one emergency call, a domestic violence situation, that was unable to be initially completed because of the outage. He confirmed the caller was eventually directed to call the department’s business line, and received help.
East Pierce Fire and Rescue Chief Bud Backer said the night “did seem a little slower,” but added he has “no idea what the actual impacts were.”
South Sound 911’s Assistant Director Tim Hannah said the call center, which covers all of Pierce County, was prepared for this incident due to a similar CenturyLink outage that happened in 2014.
“It was very sporadic throughout the day. There were times 911 went through, and times where it didn’t go through. That was the hard part,” Hannah said. “That was the messaging — try 911, and if you can’t get through, dial our ten-digit numbers, which goes around the 911 network.
“It seems from our standpoint people got the message. A lot of police and fire agencies were using social media and other ways of alerting their citizens of the problem, so I think that was very successful,” he continued. “I think the way we handled this this time around… was much better than what we saw in 2014.”
Washington was not the only state affected by the outage. Large outages were reported in Portland, Oregon; Phoenix, Arizona; Denver, Colorado; Boise, Idaho; and Salt Lake City, Utah, according to a CenturyLink outage map. A smattering of other, lighter outages dot the country.
While 911 calls are now making it through to call centers, local residents may find it valuable to know their local department’s business lines, if another outage should happen.
• King County Sheriff/Unincorporated King County: 206-296-3311
• Enumclaw: 360-825-3505
• South King County (Black Diamond, Auburn, Kent, Renton, Federal Way, etc.): 253-852-2121
• You can also text 911 for services as well
• Bonney Lake: 253-863-2218
• Buckley: 360-829-3157
• Police services: 253-798-4721
• Fire or EMS: 253-588-5217
WASHINGTON STATE PATROL
• 425-401-7788 (King County)
• 253-538-3240, option 4 (Pierce County)