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Officials share more details on recent 911 outage

ELIZABETH HEFFNER
Staff Writer

More information has been released regarding the Lincoln County’s 911 system outage last week.
The emergency communications center first noticed the problem early Wednesday morning.
“At 5:45 a.m., all of our 911 lines lighted up, so we knew we had a problem,” Lincoln County’s 911 Director of Communications Rick Ellis said.
In a press release from Assistant County Manager Martha Lide, upon answering these calls, personnel discovered no one was on the line.
AT&T Corporate Communications representative Josh Gelinas released a brief statement from the company Friday afternoon.
“Due to a hardware issue, some AT&T customers in the Lincoln County area may have experienced issues with their landline on Wednesday morning,”Gelinas wrote. “Technicians worked quickly to resolve the issue and service is currently running normally. We apologize for this inconvenience.”
Ellis was able to offer more detail regarding the hardware trouble, which originated at an AT&T central exchange known as a tandem.
“There was a defective computer card that went bad,” he said. “They removed and replaced it, and that’s when everything was fixed.”
According to Ellis, telecommunications personnel and Lincolnton Police Department were asked to call 911 on their personal cell phones. However, their calls went through.
“The outage was sporadic, and there were cases where some cell phones were affected, depending on the carrier,” he said. “So, it wasn’t until 9 a.m. that they realized they still had a problem.”
The 911 Communication Center notified county residents of the problem through their LincAlerts emergency notification system. According to Ellis, there are 30,353 contacts that the messages were delivered to. The message can be delivered via text messaging, email or a phone call. Residents were also provided with the administrative phone line number to call for emergencies.
According to Lide, there have been two confirmed cases in which someone called 911 and the call failed to go through. The first incident involved a fall with injury at a skilled nursing facility in Denver, and the second incident was determined to be a false call from a Lincolnton motel. However, the individuals were able to make contact with 911 communications by utilizing the seven-digit non-emergency number.
Upon learning that the outage was still ongoing, Ellis reached out to AT&T to troubleshoot the situation. At 8:35 a.m., AT&T notified Ellis that the system had been repaired.
“We know it was at least a regional problem because the connection is routed from Charlotte to specific 911 centers,” he said. “I know for sure Gaston and Burke Counties were affected. My people spoke to the private company tech service in Burke County, and they were having the same issues, so it wasn’t in-house.”
As of Friday morning, Ellis said he had not yet spoken to Catawba or Cleveland to see if they were affected.
Throughout his years as Director of Communications, Ellis said Lincoln County has never experienced a tandem outage.
“We have had trouble with individual lines or what we call trunks,” he said. “There have been outages before, but not at the tandem, only at the center.”
While there have been no more reports of failed attempts to reach Lincoln County’s emergency communications center via 911, Ellis urges anyone in the county who tried unsuccessfully to call 911 during the outage to contact the communications center at (704) 735-8202.

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