It makes headlines when it happens and just last week it did happen. AT&T had a technical problem affecting wireless 911 calls in 14 states. It went on most of Wednesday night and had emergency managers frantically trying to advise the public through the press and social media that people needed to expect problems with 911. It was an odd outage too because the effect was for callers to just hear 911 ringing with no one answering. Which would leave someone in an emergency situation thinking they were being ignored. In my emergency center we started to notice something was wrong because the 911 lines seemed to be ringing less, odd for a Spring Break night, and we got calls from all over the place, within our city and also from the neighboring county as well as from callers who appeared on our maps to be far out at sea. Key West is an island connected by road so we do sometimes get emergency calls from people in distress on the water, but our maps don’t usually show people calling from apartment complexes in the water!
The New York Times had a story on the problem:
The telecommunications giant did not say when and how the problem began, or how many customers were affected. The warnings began no later than 5:49 p.m., when the Monongalia County Homeland Security Emergency Management Agency in West Virginia reported the problem on Facebook. Officials continued issuing warnings until at least 10:25 p.m.
The only way for people to reach 911 centers was to use their non emergency lines if you knew what they were. Of course it occurred to me that 911 Buddy would have been invaluable for anyone in trouble. Had someone needing 911 called a friend for help, a friend with 911 on their iPhone could have easily reached the necessary 911 emergency center using my app. 911Buddy is there ready to help, whether or not 911 lines are working properly.