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County’s 911 system, backups fail

Tue., Nov. 27, 2012

Calls answered at alternate site 38 minutes later

Callers needing emergency help in Spokane County could not get through to 911 operators for 38 minutes Monday evening.

It’s unclear what caused the problem or how many callers could not get help during the outage, said Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, who leads the Spokane County Emergency Services Communications Policy Board.

“It’s why we have a backup center,” Knezovich said. “This is technology. Technology fails.”

Operators for 911 and Crime Check, the nonemergency help line, stopped getting calls at about 6:40 p.m., said Lorlee Mizell, director of 911 Emergency Communications. She said two backup systems also failed. Operators then left the site and drove about nine miles to the 911 backup center, which is north of Spokane.

“This was internal to our building,” Mizell said. “The system went down completely.”

Mizell said phone technicians were working late Monday to identify the problem at the main emergency communications center at 1620 N. Rebecca St., which is east of Spokane Community College.

Those who called 911 during the outage likely heard continuous ringing, Mizell said.

Operators use the backup center, which has 15 operator stations – four fewer than the main center – once every three months to remain comfortable with its operations and ensure systems are working properly, Mizell said. She said the last time it was used as a result of a system failure was 2008. Crime Check also functions in the backup center.

The Spokane County 911 system provides emergency communication service countywide and is under the oversight of the Spokane County Commission. An average of 705 emergency calls were received each day in 2011. Crime Check received an average of 511 calls a day.

As a general rule, people needing emergency help should go to the nearest fire station if it appears the 911 system isn’t working, Mizell said. Had the backup center not worked, 911 would have provided the media with alternative numbers to call in case of emergencies.

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