Did today’s emergency 911 alert concern you? I hope it did. As a result of a nationwide problem with one of the larger telecommunications and Internet providers, 911 services were down in many parts of the country. Cell phone callers were the most impacted.
The outage effected areas from New York to California. Washington State was hit particularly hard. Cell phone users in many parts of the country received a government issued emergency alert today like the one below:
Key to this alert is the critical question, do you know the local 10-digit number for your police and fire department? You should.
I have my local dispatch center number stored in my phone. This next statement may upset some emergency officials, but several years ago, shortly after the implementation of the statewide 911 system in New Hampshire, a police officer that I know recommended that I never call 911 and instead call local dispatch. Why? This persons opinion was that the statewide system slowed emergency response. When you call in to a 911 center, the operators ask information to both qualify the emergency and to offer immediate phone based help, when appropriate. The 911 operator then calls the local dispatch center to send help. Some feel this introduces unnecessary delays to the response. Others say it helps avoid unnecessary dispatches and offers more immediate help, especially for health related emergencies while the caller waits for first responders to arrive.
I suspect there is a heated debate around this topic. As it relates to todays emergency alert, I was feeling fine about it, as I have my local dispatch numbers. If I were in an out of state location or somewhere else locally that I did not, I would need to depend on 911 and this would certainly concern me.
If you have not already, I recommend you put the local dispatch numbers for places you frequent. Places like your home, place of work, family members you visit often, etc. By storing them in your phone, hopefully you will never need them. You don’t ever want to find yourself in a position of needing them and not having them.
With regard to the cause of today’s alert, the FCC is investigating the CenturyLink outage to determine why it took down one of the most important emergency communications netqorks we have. The national 911 system was thought to be one of the most highly redundant communications systems in existence. Today’s outage, which actually began yesterday afternoon, says otherwise.