By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News
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For about seven hours early Thursday morning, that was the situation across the North Olympic Peninsula and throughout the state.
Calls to the emergency number elicited a fast busy signal because of a problem with the system operated by CenturyLink.
Emergency dispatch managers in both Jefferson and Clallam counties said they were notified the outage had been fixed by about
8:30 a.m. Thursday.
“I just hope and pray that nobody was left without getting emergency services,” said Steve Romberg, communications manager for Peninsula Communications, or PenCom, which dispatches 9-1-1 calls for Clallam County.
A 9-1-1 outage also affected parts of Oregon that the phone company services, though CenturyLink spokeswoman Jan Kampbell said Thursday the outages in the two states were isolated and unrelated.
“We’re [investigating] to find the source of [the outage] to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Kampbell said.
CenturyLink spokeswoman Kerry Zimmer said earlier that technicians don’t know whether the problem was caused by computer hacking or an equipment problem.
Kampbell said: “I don’t want to comment on any speculation because at this point, we don’t know what is the cause of the problem.”
She said people dialing 9-1-1 across the state had intermittent success getting through starting at about 1 a.m. Thursday.
“I was reaching a fast busy [signal],” Kampbell said, referring to test calls she made during the outage.
Emergency dispatch managers on the North Olympic Peninsula said dispatchers are contacting CenturyLink to figure out whether any calls were missed.
CenturyLink and the state Emergency Management Division officials told The Associated Press that there were no reports of emergencies where people could not get help because of the outage.
During the outage, people with emergencies were advised to use a cellphone, which sometimes worked better than a landline. They also could try non-emergency numbers for dispatchers.
Romberg and his counterpart in Jefferson County, Jeffcom 9-1-1 Director Karl Hatton, said they didn’t get any formal notification about the 9-1-1 outage until about 4 a.m., though both said they knew by 1:30 a.m. Thursday.
Notification came from the state Emergency Management Division’s Emergency Operations Center. Neither ever got word directly from CenturyLink.
“We never really got a formal notification, but 9-1-1 centers across the state are pretty tight with each other,” Hatton said, adding that word of the outage spread quickly.
Kampbell said CenturyLink was in contact with state officials about the outage but did not know whether individual 9-1-1 dispatch centers had been notified.
Karen Shagren, spokeswoman for the state Military Department, which oversees the state Emergency Management Division, said the division was notified at about 1 a.m. Thursday by a nearby county 9-1-1 dispatcher that the system was down.
Division staff then began contacting other counties to see how widespread the outage was and organized a 4 a.m. conference call to all county dispatch centers to let them know the outage was known and being addressed.
Shagren said the Emergency Management Division will work with CenturyLink to determine what happened.
“We take this issue very seriously,” she said.
“We need to know what the problem was and need to ensure CenturyLink will take whatever measures necessary to make sure it never happens again.”
At about 1:09 a.m., Hatton said his center got a call from a former employee now working as a dispatcher in Pierce County that their 9-1-1 system was not receiving calls.
Hatton’s staff checked their system and discovered it was down, too.
Jeffcom 9-1-1 then checked with PenCom to ask whether Jefferson County emergency calls could be routed through the Clallam County system, Romberg said, but PenCom test 9-1-1 calls also failed to go through.
“Our folks determined, ‘Oh my gosh, we don’t have 9-1-1 either,’” Romberg said.
Per procedure, both counties’ dispatchers let fire chiefs and on-duty police officers and sheriff’s deputies know 9-1-1 was down.
Hatton and Romberg said the outage did not affect the ability of dispatchers to reach law enforcement or emergency crews.
If residents cannot get through to 9-1-1, both dispatcher managers said that calling the 10-digit business phone numbers of fire or police departments will allow them to get through to emergency dispatchers.
People also are advised to go to a fire station in person if they cannot call for help.
Hatton and Romberg said they want discussions at a state level through the state Emergency Management Division on how the notification process for 9-1-1 dispatchers can be improved in case of outages in the future.
“I’m hoping we have a lot of dialogue and we’re able to fix whatever happened so it doesn’t happen again,” Romberg said.
Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Information from The Associated Press was included in this report.