Questions remain over statewide 911 shutdown

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by ELISA HAHN / KING 5 News

Bio | Email | Follow: @ElisaHahnK5

KING5.com

EVERETT, Wash. --  911 services were down for more than five hours Thursday morning in Washington and Oregon. Services have since been restored, but there are still plenty of questions about why it went down and whether it could happen again.

CenturyLink has not said much about the shutdown and what caused it, except issuing a statement that "we are still investigating the root cause." 

Thursday afternoon, the state Utilities and Transportation Commission announced it is opening an investigation into the outage.

A lot of people are wondering what happened and whether the backup procedures are good enough.

Just before 2 a.m. Alicia Capolla says a man tried breaking into her home, where she and her two kids were sleeping.

“I tried to call 911 and it connected and then there was a busy signal,” she said, “so I thought I did something wrong. 911 is not busy.”

She dialed 37 times and still couldn’t get through, even when the man climbed through the window.

“He opened the window and climbed in to the living room and I grabbed a knife out of the kitchen drawer,” said Capolla.

Capolla was just one person impacted by the statewide 911 shutdown.

The state Emergency Management Division’s alert center got the first failure notification from Lewis County at 1 a.m. Other counties started calling in, so they used the National Warning System.

"This system right here which allows us to pick up the bullhorn and just by talking into it, all of the counties can hear me at the same time,” said Jim Kadrmas, Emergency Management Alert Center.

Emergency Management says it contracts with CenturyLink to provide the backbone network for all 911 services, regardless of who your individual phone carrier is – that includes cell service, landlines and VOIP.

“Correct, it all went down, which leads me to believe it was the backbone,” said Robert Ezelle, Emergency Management Division Director.

As for Capolla, she was able to talk her intruder into leaving.

“I don’t know if he was drunk or high or both,” she said.

But her faith in the Emergency System went out the window as well.

“It was truly terrifying to have someone break into my house while my kids are asleep and have no way to do anything about it,” said Capolla.

CenturyLink says the Oregon and Washington outages were unrelated and that Oregon’s was caused by a maintenance or equipment issue. The cause for Washington’s shutdown is still unclear, but multiple agencies seem to agree that the public needs to be made aware of backup phone numbers for police and fire in case this happens again.
 

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