More Emergency Calls Failed During 911 Outage Than Originally Believed

Dec 2, 2014

There were 83 incomplete 911 calls made during the nearly six hour outage Friday, but it took the state until Monday to get a full list of numbers. The overall number remained in flux as late as Tuesday afternoon. At one point it was thought to be as high as 100.

David Tucker, executive director of Vermont’s Enhanced 911 system says it’s critical to contact those who could not get through as quickly as possible after an outage.

He called the delay in getting those numbers from the two companies currently operating the system “very troubling.”

The state’s E-911 system is transitioning to FairPoint Communications from the previous operator, the Colorado-based company Intrado. 

Tucker says the two companies took too long to provide the state with a list of numbers, an issue he says he will take up with the Federal Communications Commission.  

“There could have been somebody that was still in need of assistance and hadn’t been able to get through to somebody,” says Tucker. “The turnaround time to get numbers that are available someplace in the system has been a challenge.”

He says late Saturday FairPoint produced numbers for its customers who had initiated 911 calls during the outage.

Intrado, which is responsible for tracking calls made through providers other than FairPoint, did not supply the state with a complete list of numbers until Monday.  Subsequently, it was discovered the list also included calls that had not been affected by the outage.

Tucker says the state experienced a similar delay with Intrado during an August outage, adding the problem is not unique to Vermont.

Tucker says nearly all of those whose calls did not get through during the Friday outage have been contacted.  

FairPoint says there were two problems that caused the outage. One was a tree down on a fiber optic line, the other was an equipment failure.

Tucker says the result was that both the primary and backup E-911 circuits were down.

“This is the second time in three months that there have been multiple failures that caused the redundant system to not deliver calls,” he says.

Tucker says it’s clear that two redundant systems are not sufficient and the state will assess what more is needed to make sure service is maintained.

The decision to transition from Intrado to  FairPoint for E-911 services was the result of a competitive bidding process.

FairPoint installed the E-911 system in Maine and Tucker says he spoke at length with his counterpart there. 

Vermont officials also visited the state to inspect the system before deciding to contract with Fairpoint.

“Based on the fact that they offered to provide everything that we needed at a reasonable price, and the strength of their success in Maine, we thought that it was a good decision and we still think that it was a good decision,” he says.

Outage Timeline Friday, Nov. 28:

3 p.m.: Outage begins.

3:52 p.m.: FairPoint informs state by email. It’s not immediately clear to officials that the company was reporting an E-911 outage. “We missed that,”  says Tucker. There was no notification from Intrado.

4:45 p.m.: E-911 officials are alerted to the outage when someone at an answering centers indicates there’s a problem.

Tucker says at that point, he tries to call E-911 from a land line and his cell phone and can’t get through. 

5:15 p.m.: Tucker sends an email to FairPoint, which responds that the system is back up. In fact, it is not.

8:45 p.m.: Service is restored.

Friday-Monday: FairPoint provides Tucker with a list of its customers who tried to call 911 during the outage. This turns out to be a list of those who called before the outage and did, in fact, get through.

It will take until late Saturday for FairPoint to compile an accurate list of 45 customers whose 911 calls failed.

Another 55 people called 911 from cell phones or through providers other than FairPoint.  Intrado is not able to provide the state with a complete list of these numbers until Monday.

Editor's Note 3:05 p.m. Dec. 2, 2014 This post has been updated to include additional information. It was originally published with the headline "More E-911 Calls Failed To Get Through During Outage."

This story was updated at 9:20 p.m. It includes updated information provided by David Tucker.