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911 Massachusetts Call Center Outage Wreaks Havoc

The abrupt failure of Massachusetts’ 911 system on Tuesday was a stark example of the disastrous consequences that can occur when an emergency network that is supposed to be reliable is suddenly unreliable. The outage, lasting nearly two hours, prompted a scramble among emergency agencies as they directed the public to reach out directly to the local authorities at less-familiar phone numbers or, as a last resort, go in person to their local firehouse, the New York Times reports. Last year, more than 3.2 million contacts were made to emergency call centers in Massachusetts. Calls to 911 fluctuate significantly through the day, but that comes out to an average of 367 calls an hour, an indication of the possible impact of Tuesday's outage. It was far from the first 911 outage to strike a large region. Several major failures in recent years have sent officials scrambling.

In June 2020, an equipment problem led to a vast T-Mobile outage across the U. S. during which 23,000 calls to 911 went unconnected. The company later agreed to pay a $19.5 million settlement. In September of that year, a 911 provider was doing preparatory work to update its system and inadvertently created an outage that lasted an hour and 17 minutes across more than a dozen states. The causes of 911 outages can range from software problems to old-fashioned blunders. In April, 911 service was knocked offline in parts of four states after a problem caused by the installation of a light pole, a telecommunications company said. “You and I and everybody take 911 for granted,” said Brian Fontes of the National Emergency Number Association, an advocacy group for dispatchers and other jobs related to 911 services. “We just always expect it to work. And, to be truthful, it works very well on good days.”


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