The outage, which began the evening of Dec. 27 and lasted for more than 12 hours, disrupted 911 emergency calls in Washington and other states. State and federal regulators are investigating.
Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson wants to hear from state residents who had trouble calling 911 during last month’s CenturyLink service outage.
The outage, which began the evening of Dec. 27 and lasted for more than 12 hours, disrupted 911 emergency calls in Washington and other states. State and federal regulators are investigating, and Ferguson said Tuesday he was seeking stories from state residents.
CenturyLink claimed the outage was caused by a faulty network-management card from a third-party equipment vendor, according to an emailed statement. The issue was isolated to one of six transport networks and affected services for some customers and the company’s ability to look into its own network-management system. This impaired troubleshooting and prolonged the outage, the company said.
The company also blamed a third-party vendor for a six-hour 911 outage in 2014, for which the company was fined $2.85 million by state regulators. That outage resulted in nearly 6,000 failed emergency calls. It’s not known how many calls failed during last month’s outage.
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“Lives depend on the availability of 911 services. CenturyLink must handle its responsibilities as Washington’s 911 provider with a level of seriousness and care that reflects this responsibility,” Ferguson said in an emailed statement. “I will be taking appropriate action on behalf of Washingtonians whose safety was jeopardized due to this outage.”
Emergency services are currently switching from CenturyLink to a new 911 provider, Robert Ezelle, director of the state Emergency Management Division, previously told The Times. The transition should be complete by December.
After the 2014 CenturyLink outage, Ferguson called for the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission to impose the maximum penalty of $11.5 million against the company, according to the Attorney General’s Office. He was “deeply disappointed” with the commission’s ultimate fine of nearly $2.9 million in 2016.
A spokeswoman for the attorney general did not provide further information about what action he may be considering against the company.
It’s not known how many calls failed during the recent outage, but it severely impacted 46 emergency call centers in 33 counties in the state, Ezelle said. Other call centers were affected by calls to long-distance and 800 numbers not going through, he said.
The outage caused difficulty for some Seattle residents.
Green Lake resident Stephanie Brooks was on her way home the night of the outage when she saw a car that appeared to have crashed into a freeway barrier wall and flipped over. The car was steaming and a woman was yelling from inside, she said. Brooks and others rushed to the car and helped the driver and her dog get out, but they couldn’t get through to 911, she said.
“I grabbed my phone to call 911, but I got the busy signal and I wasn’t sure what was happening,” Brooks said. “So I tried again and again. I probably called six times and got the busy signal until myself and some of my neighbors realized it was part of the outage.”
The group found an alternate number for the Seattle Police Department and emergency responders quickly arrived at the scene, Brooks said. While everything ultimately worked out, Brooks said she thought the outage led to a delay of about five minutes to reach emergency services.
“I don’t know how significant that was in this case,” she said. “But in the scheme of things, five minutes could be life or death.”
The Attorney General’s Office has received a few responses so far, including one from a man whose car rolled after hitting a patch of ice, spokeswoman Brionna Aho said. The man was unable to get through to 911, but was eventually able to reach a family member who called an alternate number.
People impacted by the outage who would like to share their stories with the Attorney General’s Office can email firstname.lastname@example.org.