MICHIGAN - Phone Line Failure Disrupts 911 Access

greenspun.com : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread


Phone line failure disrupts 911 access

Hospitals, police report no problems during down time

By Todd Schulz Lansing State Journal March 17, 2000

A power failure zapped phone service for as long as 12 hours across mid-Michigan Thursday, disabling 911 emergency lines in at least four counties.

Hospital officials said no medical emergencies went untreated during the outage, which affected Ameritech customers in Lansing, East Lansing, Jackson and surrounding areas. Police and fire officials also reported no serious problems during the outage.

Ameritech lost power at its downtown Lansing office around 9 a.m. when its equipment failed during a routine power shut-off. A company spokeswoman said 99 percent of service was restored by 8:30 p.m. Thursday.

But callers in Eaton, Clinton and Ingham counties endured long stretches with no way to call for emergency police, fire or medical help. Ingham County was without 911 for about one hour, Eaton County for about three hours and the southern part of Clinton County for at least six hours.

"We couldn't talk to anybody in the world," said Paul Rogers, director of Eaton County Central Dispatch. "That's a problem in this business."

Dispatchers maintained communication with police and fire officials by radio.

"As far as we know, all emergencies have been handled adequately," said Chuck Bauer, director of the Ingham County 911 dispatch center.

But Rogers admits: "We have no way of knowing."

Ameritech did not have an estimate of how many customers were affected by the incident, Ameritech spokeswoman Julie Balmer said. Grand Rapids' 911 service also was affected, she said.

Paul Pratt, chairman of the Ingham County Board of Commissioners' Law and Courts Committee, said the committee discussed the outage at a meeting Thursday night and decided to send Ameritech a letter to explore ways to improve service.

"There is probably some way to get ahold of Ameritech other than by phone," Pratt said.

The problem started at 6 a.m. Thursday when the Board of Water and Light performed a routine power shut-off at the Ameritech building at 221 N. Washington Square.

An equipment problem kept Ameritech from switching to a backup circuit. Instead, generators kicked on, and ran out around 9 a.m.

When Ameritech lost power, its phone service also went down.

"We had a scheduled outage to hook up a new customer and everything went fine," said John Strickler, spokesman for the Board of Water and Light. "Whatever difficulties occurred after that was a result of their equipment."

Balmer said the phone company's equipment was to blame, though it was still investigating the cause.

"We switched from a commercial line to a back-up line, and when we transferred from the back-up line, the problem occurred," she said.

By late Thursday afternoon, pockets of callers remained without service and Balmer had no estimate on when it would be restored.

The company serves 20 million business and residential customers in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin.

Callers who tried to dial 911 during the power failure got busy signals. Others simply couldn't get a dial tone.

Some callers who tried 911 were bounced to other counties. Those dispatchers took the information and contacted emergency help by radio for their neighbors.

"If this was a Friday at 2 a.m., it would be a disaster," said Lt. Ray Hall, of the Lansing Police Department.

Tom Shaver, Lansing's emergency management coordinator, said the backup plan always has been effective.

"Our contingency plan is for people with emergencies to go to the nearest fire station or precinct for help," Shaver said. "What we witnessed today was very rare."

Sparrow Hospital got word that the phones weren't working and feared the worst.

"We expected cars to arrive with sick people who couldn't call 911," said Bonnie Laverty, a nurse in the emergency room. "It just didn't happen."

Ingham Regional Medical Center had similar luck.

No patients were brought in as a result of not being able to call for an ambulance, said Meg Barks, nurse supervisor for the emergency room.

Barks did have a patient, however, who would have died had her asthma attack hit 30 minutes later. The woman called 911 at about 8:30 a.m., was brought in and admitted to intensive care, Barks said.

The phone outage also left some people standing in lines at banks which rely on phone service to conduct transactions online. Others were stranded without Internet service.

Though East Lansing's Voyager.net uses MCI Worldcom circuits, which were unaffected by the outage, to access the Internet customers couldn't reach Voyager through their own Ameritech phone lines.

As a result, Internet usage dropped from its average of 500 customers to four, Joe Sollner, Voyager's voice network engineer, said.


-- (Dee360Degree@aol.com), March 17, 2000

Moderation questions? read the FAQ