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State investigating 911 outage

Ferry, Okanogan emergency call systems affected

— The state has launched an investigation into a CenturyLink telephone problem that put 911 emergency service on hold Thursday morning.

The glitch affected emergency lines in Okanogan and Ferry counties, along with the rest of the state.

“It is a very frustrating situation that gives us and the other centers in the state concern, where we have fought so hard to build systems with redundancies and backup plans to prevent this very type of event,” said Mike Worden, chief deputy of special operations and communications with the Okanogan County Sheriff’s Office.

“The investigation and analysis of the events will be very interesting to see where the failures were, what the causes were and what corrective action will be taken to prevent a reoccurrence.”

Service was cut from about 1-8 a.m., although it was restored sooner in some areas and later in others.

As of 7 a.m. Thursday, Okanogan County’s dispatch center began receiving 911 calls.

The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission said Thursday afternoon it was starting an investigation into the outage.

“We recognize this outage could have had serious implications for people and emergency responders across the state,” commission Chairman David Danner said. “Our investigation will look into the cause of the outage, the company’s emergency preparedness and response, restoration efforts and communication with the public.”

CenturyLink also is investigating.

In Okanogan County, people seeking emergency help had to call the dispatch center’s direct line, 509-422-7232.

Worden said it’s not known how many people might have tried dialing 911 and not gotten through.

“The nature of the outage was such that I and other centers have no way to determine how many 911 calls were not received,” he said. “The state 911 office will be working to get this information from CenturyLink, if it is possible.”

He said Friday his office hasn’t heard from anyone reporting unsuccessful efforts to reach emergency help.

“We have posted on our Facebook page a request (for) people to contact us at ocso

dispatch@co.okanogan.wa.us if they had attempted to call 911 but were unsuccessful. We would like to know the time they called, the nature of the problem — medical, criminal, fire, other — the impact on them and what did they do to overcome 911 not being available to them.”

Worden said he was notified by the dispatch center around 1:50 a.m. Thursday. RiverCom, which handles dispatching for Douglas and Chelan counties, was contacted and said its service was down, too.

CenturyLink and the state Emergency Operations Center were contacted, and reported the system failure was more widespread, Worden said. Apparently the phone company had a service failure in Oregon that spread to Washington.

Emergency centers have pre-sent protocols for rerouting 911 calls if there’s a failure, but none of those were working. The outage also took down some offices’ administrative lines.

Ferry and Okanogan counties can route to each others’ dispatch centers.

Ferry County was among those that lost some of its regular phone lines, said Ferry County Sheriff’s Office Dispatcher Pete Brandon. No emergencies were reported to Ferry County during the outage.

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