911 service restored in Washington after statewide outage

SEATTLE - CenturyLink says 911 service has been completely restored in Washington state after an overnight outage knocked out the emergency call system that millions of residents depend on.

Spokeswoman Kerry Zimmer says the problem began about 1:30 a.m. Thursday at Sheridan, Ore., and Oregon was affected for a time. It was restored earlier in Oregon, but service remained out in some parts of Washington state until about 8 a.m.

Another spokeswoman, Jan Kampbell, says technicians worked all morning to solve the problem. CenturyLink provides the service statewide because the dispatch centers are all tied together.

Service began to be partially restored in some areas by about 6 a.m., and was completely restored about two hours later.

During the outage, the problem was intermittent. Some calls were going through and others were not. A list of emergency phone numbers was issued for callers who could not get through on 911.

Zimmer and Washington state Emergency Management spokeswoman Wendy Freitag say there are no reports of emergencies where people could not get help because of the outage.

"I guess overnight was a good time," for an outage, Zimmer said. "But no 911 outage is good."

The service to dozens of emergency dispatch centers is a priority because of the safety issue, Zimmer said.

The cause of the outages is unknown and Zimmer couldn't speculate on whether it could be computer hacking or an equipment problem. At some centers a phone line or two continued to work; at others, all the lines were out of service.

During the outage, people with emergencies were advised to use a cellphone, which sometimes worked better than a land line. They also could try non-emergency numbers for dispatchers. Some were posted on state highway department reader boards.

People also were advised to go to a fire station in person if they could not call for help.

The state Emergency Management Division, which coordinates dispatch centers and makes contingency plans, will look into what went wrong, said Freitag.

"Is there some vulnerability or gap we need to fill? I'm sure it will be done very thoroughly in this case," she said.

In Seattle, the King County Office of Emergency Management also plans to have a long talk with CenturyLink to prevent this from happening again, said spokeswoman Marlys Davis.

There are fewer 911 calls overnight, but "sometimes those can be the most critical calls," she said.