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Multi-state 9-1-1 outage included Island County

South Whidbey was included in a massive 9-1-1 outage that is believed to have spanned several states and lasted more than six hours Thursday morning.

Tom Shaughnessy, director of I-COM, Whidbey’s 9-1-1 dispatch service, said the outage on Whidbey began at about 1:20 a.m. and lasted to about 7:40 a.m. He said the cause is still unknown but that the problem originated with CenturyLink — the company that owns the 9-1-1 network used by agencies across the state and West Coast.

Shaughnessy said the outage was statewide. He added that service was down in parts of Oregon as well, and the disruption may have stretched as far south as Las Vegas, Nevada, though the exact extent of the outage has yet to be confirmed.

Shaughnessy was not pleased with the incident, saying redundancies are built into the contract with CenturyLink that are supposed to make such an outage impossible.

“This should not have happened — bottom line,” he said.

According to Washington Military Department, Emergency Management Division officials, the first problems were reported in Lewis, Thurston and Clark counties at about 1 a.m. More reports followed and made it clear this was a “major outage,” said Mark Stewart, a department spokesman.

He added that smaller outages are common, but this may have been Washington’s first statewide service disruption.

“We’re not aware of one that has occurred,” he said.

Island emergency response agencies are not reporting any harmful results from the six-hour service outage. South Whidbey Fire/EMS Chief Rusty Palmer said he wasn’t aware of any dropped calls, but did say the accounting process is not perfect. The only way to know if someone called in and didn’t get through is if they called back after service was restored.

According to Palmer, the district was alerted to the problem at about 6:30 a.m. Signs were posted at stations and email alerts were sent to island media.

Service outages are dangerous, said Palmer, but it’s unlikely that a true emergency, such as a house fire, would go unreported for long.

“The potential was big, but people are smart,” he said.

If people couldn’t get through to 9-1-1 dispatchers, they would call the fire department directly, Palmer speculated.

Island County Sheriff Mark Brown also reported no known adverse effects from the outage, but did say the incident was worrisome.

“It’s disturbing to realize that kind of glitch can happen,” Brown said.

He also said he believes police were responding to some calls that came in through administrative lines, but that he couldn’t be sure.

According to Stewart, the system came back up gradually in what he called a “rolling restoration.”

“I don’t think it’s like a light switch that you flip and everything comes back on,” he said.

The agency sent out a press release just after 9 a.m. saying service throughout the state had been restored.

According to Shaughnessy, CenturyLink’s service is regulated by the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission and that the agency is looking into the incident.

“CenturyLink has some answering to do,” Shaughnessy said.

 

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