UPDATE: 911 services partially back online, FCC investigates

CenturyLink and King County report most 911 calls are getting through.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) plans to launch an investigation into the nationwide CenturyLink outages that have interfered with 911 operations in King County and throughout Washington.

CenturyLink is currently still working to resolve the technical issues and restore its network, which has been experiencing disruptions since the morning of Dec. 27. According to Cpt. Mike Johnson, spokesperson for the Bothell Police Department, some 911 calls are now making it through, but the network may still be unstable.

“While our network is experiencing service disruptions, where CenturyLink is the 911 service provider 911 calls are completing,” CenturyLink wrote in a Twitter update at 11:43 a.m. Friday morning.

King County announced at 10:43 a.m. on Dec, 28 over Twitter that progress is being made toward resolving the issues and most 911 calls are making it through. The county added that locals should not tests the system and only call for a legitimate emergency. King County residents can also still text 911 via a newly implemented system.

The CenturyLink Twitter account has been intermittently providing updates on the issue, but the cause remains unknown, along with an expected fix time as of 2 p.m. Friday.

Andrea Wolf-Buck, spokesperson for the Redmond Police Department (RPD) added that for the most part, operations have returned to normal, but they’re waiting for confirmation from King County before calling the situation resolved.

Wolf-Buck and other RPD officers were notified of the 911 disruptions that began Thursday night and began monitoring the situation.

“Fortunately in this case it was basically just a bunch of people who stayed up all night,” Wolf-Buck said with a laugh.

The North East King County Regional Public Safety Communication Agency (NORCOM) has also been working through the night to mitigate the outages. Operators used radio systems to communicate with other 911 agencies, connecting callers with the correct dispatchers and used cell phones to dial out to callers if they needed to call them back.

“We have all hands on deck right now to ensure the safety of our citizens despite the outage,” said Jami Hoppen, spokesperson for NORCOM. “We have some systems in place to be able to work around some of the network issues from CenturyLink at this time.”

NORCOM provides 911 dispatch services for much of the Eastside, including fire and police departments in Bellevue, Bothell, Kirkland, Redmond, Mercer Island, Duvall, Snoqualmie and Eastside Fire and Rescue.

Johnson added that despite the 911 outages, police were able to adequately respond to all incoming calls.

“911 being down doesn’t create more emergencies for us to respond to,” Johnson said. “So we’ve had enough staffing to work through the problem.”

FCC chair Ajit Pai announced the commission’s investigation into the CenturyLink outages Friday morning.

“When an emergency strikes, it’s critical that Americans are able to use 911 to reach those who can help,” Pai said in the statement. “The CenturyLink service outage is therefore completely unacceptable, and its breadth and duration are particularly troubling. I’ve directed the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau to immediately launch an investigation into the cause and impact of this outage.”

Pai added that the bureau will examine how the outages have impacted 911 services and that the FCC is closely monitoring the situation.

“I have also spoken with CenturyLink to underscore the urgency of restoring service immediately,” Pai said. “We will continue to monitor this situation closely to ensure that consumers’ access to 911 is restored as quickly as possible.”

If locals live in the jurisdiction of the King County Sheriff’s Office or any of its contract partners (Town of Beaux Arts Village, City of Burien, City of Carnation, City of Kenmore, King County International Airport, City of Maple Valley, King County Metro Transit, Muckleshoot Indian Tribe, City of Newcastle, City of Sammamish, City of SeaTac, City of Shoreline, Town of Skykomish, Sound Transit and City of Woodinville) and get a busy signal when calling 911, call the 10-digit line at 206-296-3311.

Mercer Island Police Department’s phone number is 206-275-7610. The fire department and fire stations phone number is 206-275-7607.

Other lines include:

• Seattle: 206-583-2111

• Eastside: 425-577-5656

• South King County: 253-852-2121

• Unincorporated areas: 206-296-3311

King County will post updates on @KingCountyWA on Twitter.

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