A Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments committee called Sprint representatives to meet with them next week to explain why Sprint customers couldn’t dial 911 Aug. 16 and to explain their plans to prevent that from happening again.
Montgomery County Council member Roger Berliner (D-1), who chairs the Council of Governments, said he believes the COG ongoing 911 directors committee is the best group to schedule an investigation of the Sprint incident and review it.
“COG is the natural forum for it,” said Berliner, who had yet to select an exact date for the meeting as of Wednesday.
During the Aug. 16 outage, County government staffers sent alerts to residents and posted on social media that Sprint clients may receive a “busy” signal if they called 911.
They urged those users to call 911 by a land line or use a phone with another company’s provider if they had an emergency.
Sprint spokesperson Adrienne Norton said a power outage and a fire in Northwest Washington, D.C. knocked out service for mobile customers in the Washington Metropolitan area.
It marked the second time in consecutive months some local residents could not dial 911.
Unlike the prior outage, during which two people died while waiting for help, Montgomery County Police Capt. Paul Starks said the outage was not Montgomery County’s fault.
“(We) do not track other organizations’ servers,” Starks said.
However, Norton said the phone calls were not blocked but received a busy signal. She said she didn’t think Sprint collected data for callers who heard only a “busy” line.
Starks said all people who use cell phones as their primary phones should have alternatives available to them, in case an incident such as that week occurred.
“Cell phones are used as a primary device by so many people,” Starks said. “What all of us have to remember is that there can be errors in various networks and systems, and if something isn’t working repeatedly, in this case, dialing 911 and getting a busy signal, that (should not be used), but an alternate (phone of a friend, family member or co-worker) that have a different service provider.”
Berliner said phone service providers need to have back-up plans in case one of their connections to a 911 center stops working but that did not seem true to him.
Berliner said this renewed his interest in increasing more back-ups for emergency call systems.
“There has to be redundancy in the system so that it does not happen,” Berliner said. “We recently found out at the county level that redundancy is very important, in case something happens in your 911 center.”