County had no plan for 911 outage cause by lightning
Aug. 25, 2018
HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. (AP) — A county in South Carolina did not have a plan on how to handle 911 calls after a lightning strike destroyed a router preventing emergency calls from cellphones.
The outage for mobile phones in Beaufort County lasted for 16 hours after the lightning fried a router on Aug. 19, according to a statement from CenturyLink, which provides the 911 service. Landline emergency calls still went through.
Beaufort County Emergency Management Division Commander Neil Baxley took the blame for the three-hour delay before getting an alternative emergency number and notifying the public because he was trying to fix the problem.
"I cannot write a plan for every possible eventuality," Baxley told The Island Packet of Hilton Head when asked if planning for an emergency such as the 911 outage was part of his job. "I cannot anticipate everything that can possibly go wrong."
Keith and Stephanie Guest' house on Lady's Island suffered major damage in a fire from that same storm that knocked out 911 service. They could not reach 911 and it took a long time for friends to finally reach emergency dispatchers.
The couple said firefighters told them the damage to the home could have been greatly reduced if the 911 calls had gone through.
Baxley also told the newspaper he didn't want to provide an alternative number too quickly because it doesn't provide the same information about a caller's location as a regular 911 call and he didn't want people to store the other number in their phones and call it after 911 service was restored.
Twelve hours later, the problem was compounded when the alternate emergency line also stopped taking calls from 911. Baxley said his workers never checked to see if cellphone calls were going through.
"This is the first time it's ever failed that I know about," Baxley said of the 911 system installed in 1989. "There is no way to drill (prepare for such an occurrence). It's CenturyLink equipment. When it fails, we're at their mercy until they can repair it."
CenturyLink said in a statement it fixed the problem as quickly as it could. Beaufort County authorities said the company needed equipment from Jacksonville, Florida, to complete repairs.
CenturyLink promised to notify the county more quickly if the 911 system goes out again and to keep equipment needed for repairs locally instead of out-of-state, Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner said in a statement.
The outage also affected 911 calls in Hampton and Jasper counties.
Information from: The Island Packet, http://www.islandpacket.com