Sedgwick County searching for answers after weekend 911 outage

Published: Jul. 26, 2021 at 8:00 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - Some people in Sedgwick County were left with no one answering the phone when they called 911 over the weekend.

One viewer reported being on hold for nearly 20 minutes on hold. She said to get help after being able to flag down a police officer.

The state has a contract with AT&T to provide infrastructure and technical support to ensure 911 callers get connected to a dispatch center. But maintenance late Saturday night and early Sunday morning led to a 911 outage in Sedgwick and Shawnee counties.

Sedgwick County Emergency Communications Director Elora Forshee said the company told both counties not to expect any interruptions and that no action would be needed to be taken on their part. But early Sunday morning, a hospital called to say they couldn’t get through to 911.

“Feeling of uncertainly of not knowing how many calls were missed during that time is what we really are battling with now,” said Forshee.

As of right now, Forshee said the county doesn’t know how long the outage lasted or how many calls were impacted. They’re still trying to get those answers from AT&T.

“What was happening? What’s in the guts of the system, where were these going? Why this redundancy we’re supposed to have built-in, we’re supposed to have multiple layers of redundancies because our system is so large, we can’t go down,” questioned Forshee.

She said to get calls through, the county had to go away from the primary system to an internal backup they created.

“I still had to check for myself, to call 911. I did so from my home, my cell phone. It went straight through,” she said.

State Rep. John Carmichael sits on the state’s 911 council and said he’s also trying to figure out what happened.

“The fault for this is far, far more than Sedgwick County. In fact, I’ll be candid with you, I think the fault rests principally with AT&T. We spend literally, millions of taxpayer dollars with AT&T to stand up what is supposed to be one of the finest 911 communications systems in the country,” said Carmichael.

He said based on preliminary data he’s received, the circuit AT&T was working on could have impacted 45,000 subscribers and 45 911 centers. The info he got, also points to the outage lasting about two hours. He said the problem needs to be addressed.

“I think it’s extremely important that AT&T and Sedgwick County and their emergency communications sit down and have a serious heart-to-heart about who is supposed to be monitoring the backup server and when they are activated whose responsibility is it to notify Sedgwick County?” Carmichael asked.

Sedgwick County said going forward, whenever AT&T has maintenance planned, its backup systems will be ready.

“Going forward, whether they think it’s going to interrupt service or not, we just aren’t going to take that chance. We’re going to be ready to go, we’re going to have those internal systems set up, calls ready to roll over to that, staff ready to be on there.” Forshee said, “Sedgwick County community deserves to always be able to get through to 911. We know that’s a precious resource. We’ve got to keep that going and the integrity of that is very important to us.”

This is the third 911 outage the state has seen. In January 2018 and November 2020, there were outages. The November 2020 outage lasted for more than three hours and covered a large part of the state. The cause was AT&T equipment and software issues.

After the last outage in November, Carmichael said the state’s 911 council put in place another layer of backups.

“These events are rare; if you look at overall, this system is up and running 99.9 percent of the in an exemplary fashion,” said Carmichael.

He added, “The bottom line is, the two systems that are supposed to act as a backup for each other weren’t communicating properly (last November), were giving disparate information one to the other, so the whole system went down. So, we spent the money to put up a third monitor. That should be coming online. There are still technical problems there.”

Carmichael said he doesn’t know if that would have addressed the issue this weekend because, from the information he’s collected, the cause of the 2018 and 2020 outages appears to be different than the outage this weekend.

Copyright 2021 KWCH. All rights reserved.