CenturyLink outage causes responders, dispatchers to scramble for solution


by Jennifer Sullivan | KOMO News

CenturyLink outage causes responders, dispatchers to scramble for solution (PHOTO: KOMO News)

CenturyLink, which experienced a nationwide service outage late Thursday and into Friday, said Friday night all services have been restored.

The company is now under investigation by the Federal Communications Commission for the outage that caused massive 911 service disruptions.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai called the outage and delayed service restoration “completely unacceptable.” Pai, in a Tweet, said he has spoken to CenturyLink about his concerns and directed his public safety staff to investigate.

The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) is also investigating.

This is the second time in four years CenturyLink has been investigated by the UTC for its role in 911 service outages. In 2016 the UTC fined CenturyLink $2.85 million for a 2014 failure, which the company blamed on a coding error.

CenturyLink, the UTC says, provides 911 services for nearly all of Washington’s residents.

King County Sheriff’s Sgt. Ryan Abbott said dispatchers at their Renton 911 center started noticing problems around 8:30 p.m. Thursday. He said callers were greeted by busy signals. The calls that did get through couldn’t be transferred to police, firefighters and other first-responders, he said.

The sheriff’s office, Abbott said, reached out to CenturyLink and were provided little information.

“They said there was a major interruption in service and they were working to fix it,” Abbott said.

CenturyLink posted regular updates on Twitter Thursday night, to say they had crews focusing on restoring service. Just after 6 p.m. on Friday the company Tweeted that “consumer services impacted by this event, including voice and 911, have been restored.”

The service outage sent 911 center employees scrambling. They used police radios to notify other first-responders about calls for help and even relied on backup help from other counties.

Police departments, even Gov. Jay Inslee and King County Executive Dow Constantine, took to Twitter to ask people to reach call centers through their 10-digit numbers.

Terry Peterson, who is the deputy director of Snohomish County 911, which is one of the few 911 centers in the state that doesn’t use CenturyLink’s services said they jumped in to help neighboring counties.

“I know we took calls for King County, I believe there were a couple of calls for Island County,” Peterson said on Friday.

But when an alert went out late Thursday night telling Washington residents about the outage, Snohomish County dispatchers had their hand full with calls from people checking to see if their 911 call would go through.

“Following that emergency alert that went out, we received hundreds of calls here in the 11 o’clock hour,” Peterson said.

Abbott said the sheriff’s office 911 center, which is one of 12 dispatch centers in the county, received 50 calls after the alert went out.

“It’s frustrating because we’re here to help people, but if we can’t because people are testing the line we’ve got some serious problems,” Abbott said.

Peterson said the state is in the process of upgrading its entire 911 system. A process, he said, that doesn’t include working with CenturyLink.

“Several years ago, there was an outage that caused the state to look for a new carrier and they went through a process, they selected a different bidder and everybody is transitioning over, away from CenturyLink to the new network,” Peterson said.

2018-12-29 03:49:06

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