Massive outage crippled 911 centers throughout Tampa Bay

The Pasco County 911 dispatch center.

MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – On Wednesday, a massive phone outage across the Tampa Bay area led to no working phones at multiple 911 call centers.

Inside the Manatee County 911 center, phone calls were scant, and for dispatcher Mike Turner, that’s not a good thing.

“You just kind of wonder if there’s somebody out there that needs help that is not able to call us,” said Turner.

All 911 calls in the Tampa Bay area are routed through Frontier communications, and the company faced massive outages.

Overnight, the company experienced an outage during routine maintenance. Then hours later, a fiber line cut, and backup systems were not working.

“We’ve had some degradation of service before. This is a total outage so it’s kind of new for us,” explained Emergency Communications Chief Jacob Saur.

Agencies cobbled together alternate phone numbers and scrambled to notify residents on social media. But the alternate numbers didn’t provide some extra important details such as addresses or GPS locations.

“We may get caller ID, but we’re not getting the normal information that normally comes with a 911 call. So we’re being extra careful to make sure we verify all the information: the address where they need help, the telephone number they’re calling from,” said Turner.

Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan is outraged.

“There’s still gonna have to be some answers on why there was no redundancy, what type of disaster recovery there was, and we’re gonna work closely with them to see that it doesn’t happen again in the future,” said Chief Dugan.

Chief Dugan doesn’t know how many calls failed to make it through.

“We’ll see how many people tried to get a hold of us and if there was any skips in service there. It doesn’t appear that it created any issues for us, but we won’t know for a while,” said Chief Dugan.

Frontier is now making changes to their backup procedures. Manatee County is planning its own upgrades later this year.

“We’ve known that this technology that routes calls to 911 centers is getting to the end of life,” said Saur. “[We’re] moving from an old copper wire system to the internet based protocol of delivering 911 calls, so that’s going to allow pictures, text messages and a whole host of other data to come into the 911 center.”

In this age of technology, phones are still a vital lifeline.

This serves as a reminder on why it’s important to stay in touch with News Channel 8 and your respective county emergency agencies. During the outage, the best way people found out vital information was through social media.

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