The Washington Emergency Management Division declined to comment Friday on any possible causes of Thursday’s 911 outage in seven state counties. The EMD said a report on the cause and extent of the outage will be completed next week.
The state’s 911 provider, Comtech Telecommunications, will finalize the “root cause analysis” report and send it to the Washington Emergency Management Division next week, according to Karina Shagren, a spokesperson for the Washington Military Department.
“We clearly want to know what caused this incident so we can work with our partners to ensure it doesn’t happen again. We recognize that an operational 911 system is critical to keeping our communities safe, and will continue to investigate until all of our questions are resolved,” Shagren said.
The outage appears to have spanned seven counties and was not a “full 911 outage,” meaning some calls — depending on the caller’s carrier and location — were directed to a 911 center, according to Shagren.
The outage started at around 3:15 p.m. and service appeared to return to normal around 4:10 p.m., Shagren said. Agencies including the Seattle Police Department and the 911 line for Bellevue’s Washington State Patrol office reported issues, as well as other agencies in King, Clallam, Jefferson, Kitsap, Whatcom, Skagit and Snohomish counties.
In Seattle, an alert was sent to residents asking them to call the department’s nonemergency line or to text 911 with any emergencies.
In some cases, calls were not routed correctly and calls might have been backed up at a specific number or 911 center, Shagren said.
The state’s Emergency Management Division, which is part of the Washington Military Department, started an investigation on Thursday night with Comtech Telecommunications, she said.
The state contracts with Comtech Telecommunications, which provides call management and call routing services for 911. The company ensures that a 911 call is delivered to one of 53 public safety answering points or 911 centers in the state, Shagren said.
Comtech Telecommunications did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
According to the Washington Military Department, Comtech Telecommunications was awarded a $45 million contract in 2016 to build a “Next Generation 911 Emergency Services” network for the state. The transition was completed last year in August.
The new system is intended to allow more types of data — including texts and potentially videos and other images — to be transmitted to 911 centers. Currently, 30 of the state’s 39 counties have installed or are testing a text-to-911 service.
Washington state experienced a systemwide 911 outage lasting 30 minutes in October 2020, during which 1,445 calls were affected, according to Shagren. The outage occurred after a software patch was applied to fix an issue that blocked Verizon customers from being able to send 911 texts to Pacific County, she said.
Washington state’s previous provider was CenturyLink, which was investigated by state and federal regulators after outages in 2014 and 2018.
In 2014, nearly 6,000 emergency calls failed during a six-hour outage due to problems from a third-party vendor. The state Utilities and Transportation Commission assessed a $2.85 million penalty for that service failure. Four years later, the state experienced an outage lasting more than 12 hours that also caused serious disruptions in other states.
The decision to change contractors was related to requirements to rebid the contract, not the outages, Washington Emergency Management said in 2018.
A full list of numbers to reach local agencies amid any 911 outages in King County can be found at kingcounty.gov/alt911. A full list for all Washington counties can be found at mil.wa.gov/911-alternative-phone-numbers.