Clark County 911 phone service back up after outage

By Emily Gillespie, Columbian Breaking News Reporter and Patty Hastings, Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith

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When 911 phone lines went down statewide for several hours early Thursday morning, local dispatchers sprung into action hoping to work around the problem.

“It’s another emergency. It just happens to be our emergency,” said Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency Director Anna Pendergrass.

Dispatchers began noticing that they were not receiving 911 calls around 1 a.m., she said. They notified people of the outage through alerts and social media, and let people know which alternate numbers to call instead.

Local hospitals, ports, care facilities, some of the area’s major businesses and the Clark County Jail also were alerted. Electronic freeway message boards displayed the alternate emergency numbers.

The statewide problem began around the same time that a technical issue was reported for CenturyLink customers in Oregon, a problem that crashed the entire 911 system in Oregon.

“We don’t know at this point if the Oregon outage and the Washington outage are connected or if they’re two separate instances,” said Jan Kampbell, spokeswoman for CenturyLink. She said the agency is investigating the problem as if they are unrelated to make sure that the issue doesn’t happen again.

Pendergrass sat in on a conference call with state officials and other 911 dispatch center directors. The Washington State Enhanced 911 Program managed out of Camp Murray in Pierce County is reviewing what happened and why, as well as determining ways to mitigate future outages, she said.

“This was the largest 911 outage that I’ve seen in my career,” said Pendergrass, who has been in the emergency services field for 38 years.

By about 6:30 a.m., Pendergrass said, it appeared the 911 lines were starting to come back into service, though service was sporadic in several areas of Clark County.

By 9:30 a.m., dispatchers announced over emergency radio traffic that service had been restored.

The outage occurred at a time of day when 911 receives the fewest calls, which “was a fortunate thing,” Pendergrass said. She hasn’t received any reports that the downed number made any emergency situations worse.

She encouraged cellphone owners to sign up for CRESA’s public alerts, so they’ll know about any future 911 outages. People should also know other numbers besides 911 that they can call in an emergency, such as the number for the local fire station, the Clark County Sheriff’s Office and the Vancouver Police Department.

“If 911 goes down, you aren’t in the dark. There are other options,” said sheriff’s office Sgt. Duncan Hoss. “We need to train ourselves that there are other options.”