The good news is that in a crisis the 911 system is the last communication system to break- hopefully. The idea is that by keeping 911 apart from regular phone lines the emergency response system will work when the regular phones are taken down by natural phenomena, hurricanes or tornadoes or some other crisis. The telephone exchange is connected directly to the emergency center so as long as your emergency call makes it to the exchange it will be redirected to the 911 operators.
The problem with this arrangement is that if you dial 911 your call is separated from the “regular” phone lines so you can’t connect with the regular phone system. So if you call 911 the operator most likely won’t be able to connect you with another number. Every 911 center is locally run but the technology is pretty much the same and the need to keep emergency lines working in a crisis means they can’t connect with regular phone lines and therefore can’t be cross contaminated by a failure of the phone system.
It’s a great feature when a hurricane is barelling down on your town but the isolation of the 911 system gets people annoyed when they call and exepect the poor old operator to worka miracle ad transfer the call. On top of all that 911 centers don’t transfer between each other. Usually they can connect to neighboring towns and counties but with 6300 emergency centers around the county the ability to transfer 911 calls is obviously very limited. Thats why I invented 911Buddy!
The 911 system does work in crisis. I remember many years ago when I was new in this job I was taking calls uring Hurricane Wilma in Key West. A woman called 911 at the height of the storm and told me her house was collapsing on top of her. She was huddled in the bathtub as you are supposed to do when a strong hurricane or tornado catches you at home and I asked her how she knew the house was collapsing. “Because I can see the stars where the roof should be,” she replied. Volunteers from the fire department roped themsevles up and went out and rescued her.
In a storm 911 will be the last link that will fail, but because of that it is the phone call that just won’t transfer. Which is why you need 911 Buddy on your smart phone.