OLYMPIA – Earlier this week, state regulatory staff released an investigation report on the six-hour 911 outage that occurred earlier this year, recommending the service provider be penalized up to $2.9 million and make improvements to ensure network reliability.
The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) began the investigation after a statewide 911 outage severely disrupted emergency services for six hours beginning around midnight on April 9 and into the morning of April 10. All 6.9 million people living in Washington lost 911 service during the outage, which affected 911 calls placed from landline, wireless, and Internet-based telephones.
In the report, UTC staff recommend the three-member commission issue a formal complaint against the company with a penalty of up to $2,932,750 for 11,731 violations of commission laws and rules. The majority of the violations were for failing to automatically re-route 911 calls and failure to maintain and manage the technical 911 system as required by law. The company was also cited for failing to promptly notify 911 call-centers of the outage.
Washington’s 911 services are provided by CenturyLink under a contract managed by the Washington Military Department’s Emergency Management Division. CenturyLink outsources certain critical functions of the 911 network to Colorado-based Intrado, CenturyLink’s 911 vendor.
Commission staff determined that the statewide 911 system outage was caused by errors originating in a data center owned and managed by CenturyLink’s 911 vendor. Commission staff also determined that 5,840 attempted 911 calls from Washington state failed to properly reach emergency services during the outage.
The investigation also looked at whether CenturyLink’s restoration of 911 services and communications between the company and affected customers were sufficient and recommends technical upgrades to prevent another potentially life-threatening outage in the future.
Commission staff recommends that CenturyLink be required to make improvements to the 911 infrastructure, and report annually to the commission on the status and results of maintenance and inspections of the system.
Although the impact was most drastic in Washington state, the outage also affected six other states – California, Florida, Minnesota, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina – prompting the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to conduct its own investigation into the outage. The FCC released a report on the outage in October and has initiated a proceeding to address 911 reliability.
CenturyLink is Washington’s state wide 911 service provider and also provides retail telecommunication service to approximately 1 million residential and business customers in Washington.