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911 outage reports cause surge of calls to local 911 dispatch center

What-Comm 911 emergency communications center facility. Photo courtesy of What-Comm 911

In a case of creating a problem where one did not exist, recent news and social media reports accompanied by a statewide text message alert about a 911 outage resulted in a surge of calls that put a strain on the otherwise unaffected What-Comm 911 Center.

CenturyLink officials acknowledged they were experiencing a service outage nationwide yesterday, December 27th. Some western Washington emergency response agencies began reporting 911 dispatch centers statewide had been effected as a result, advising anyone with an emergency to call 10-digit numbers to reach fire and law enforcement in their areas. About 11:30pm, a statewide Emergency Alert System text message was broadcast stating, “Widespread 911 outage in WA. In case of emergency, call local police or fire department.”

But the impact on 911 centers, while widespread, did not include all and the Whatcom County Emergency Communications Center, known as What-Comm 911, along with others, was unaffected. That is, until a surge of callers to 911 seeking an explanation about what was happening or simply to test whether local 911 was in fact out of service.

“We were impacted by a surge in calls to 911 after the Statewide alert,” What-Comm 911 Deputy Director Greg Erickson said in an email to MFN. “We were one of a handful of Washington counties that remained fully functional throughout the outage.”

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As a result, What-Comm 911 call receivers found themselves working to prioritize emergency calls from among the many other non-emergent calls.

Erickson advised the community to call 911 only when you need a response from police, fire or medical personnel, not for information. “Instead,” Erickson said, “turn to your location media sources for information which includes our Whatcom County 911 Facebook page.”

If there is a time when 911 fails to work, Erickson advises trying a second phone and if that still doesn’t work call the appropriate 10-digit number for the agency needed:

  • (360) 676-6911 or (360) 676-6711 for law enforcement
  • (360) 676-6811 for fire or medical
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