A recent nationwide CenturyLink outage that affected communication to emergency dispatch services last week also affected local first responders’ normal operations.
Some first responders had a tough time adjusting after the outage affected communication to emergency dispatch in many counties, such as Thurston County which was impacted for more than 12 hours Thursday, Dec. 27 until Friday morning.
The outage was reportedly under investigation by the Federal Communications Commission.
Thurston County Sheriff’s Office worked tirelessly during the unplanned outage to keep communications with dispatch while also increasing patrol in busy areas.
Thurston County Sheriff John Snaza said he made sure his supervisors kept in consistent contact with dispatch during the outage in case of an emergency call.
“It’s one of those scary moments where its like ‘holy schnikes.’” Snaza said. “I pray it doesn’t happen again.”
Overall, Snaza said he felt that both his office and the public were not well enough prepared for the outage. He said there was also a lot of anxiety surrounding the whole incident, especially with all the cell phone alerts and coverage on social media.
When Snaza was first notified of the outage, he said he called county dispatch to confirm the incident and was immediately put on hold. The dispatch line reportedly had a large number of incoming calls, which were affecting response times, Snaza said.
Some 200 calls were reported in five minutes. Most of these calls were people calling to confirm the accessibility of dispatch, Snaza said.
“When you’re inundated with more calls of concern, how do you get those real 9-11 calls?” Snaza asked.
So during the outage, it was all about working with what resources the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office had.
“I think you become more heightened about what’s going on around you with your surroundings,” Snaza said.
Snaza said there’s no way to confirm whether or not callers with actual reports were affected. Dispatch volume for the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office was average.
South Pierce Fire and Rescue fire chief Lloyd Galey said he received multiple emails from South Sound 911 throughout the outage and was well notified.
Galey said that during the outage they received a couple of calls, which were transferred to them through state police, and that they couldn’t confirm whether or not the outage had affected the number of dispatches they received.
Overall, Galey said he gives praise to the media and public for spreading information on the national outage. Alternative dispatch numbers and other forms of contacting fire stations were consistently being posted on county government social media accounts and through alternative mediums.
“We struggle in our district with communicating with our citizenry because not all of them use the internet, not all of them read the newspapers,” Galey said.
Snaza said he hopes people will note their alternative dispatch numbers and that his office is looking forward to educating the public further on what to do incase a similar situation happens in the future.