As reported in the news an AT&T service disruption last night knocked out 911 service to the greater Akron area, including Summit, Medina, and Portage County among others.
The early reports indicated that a steam pipe problem at their Akron facility resulted in the loss of telephone service, including 911 calls, in the Akron region sometime between 8 pm to 2 am.
AT&T is the local telephone service provider and they own the region’s tele-communications backbone so when they lost power at their Akron hub all of us were knocked off line.
Non-AT&T cell phone service still worked (like our City Verizon phones) but 911 was inaccessible. Like most of the other cities we advised the media outlets and we used our SwiftReach emergency notification service to direct 911 calls to our non-emergency phone line (330-673-7732).
Unfortunately any resident that used their AT&T land line as their SwiftReach notification number probably didn’t receive our information message because they relied on the AT&T system which was off-line to get it.
AT&T internet and television service remained operational during the outage and AT&T customers could access service information updates through various sources if they knew to look for it. I’m guessing that the television advisory notices reached the most people and were probably the most effective means of getting information out.
The other carrier cell services were operational throughout the incident but obviously they could only connect to themselves, not to AT&T. The City’s Verizon phones and radios worked fine so we used those to communicate among ourselves and with residents that had non-AT&T cell phone service during the outage.
This incident is reminiscent of the power outage that affected the region and much of the northeast a number of years ago. Whether it’s power supply or telecommunications, when the local service backbone is knocked out we’re all immediately out of service.
The City staff and I had discussions this morning about how to reduce our vulnerability, for example keeping cell phones active from multiple carriers so that if one cell service goes down we could use the other in an emergency. Obviously we’re still limited to AT&T for all of the local carrier calls and we rely on them to ensure the appropriate level of redundancy.
It is our understanding that the loss of steam power caused the system to switch over to battery backup which lasted a couple of hours and AT&T reported that they were having a large generator transported to the site. At this point it is unclear if the steam pipe failure also caused any computer network damage. AT&T’s systems are all computer operated and typically water and computers don’t mix well so we weren’t sure if AT&T lost power and had equipment damage or just lost power.
We had generally understood one of the benefits of the sophisticated telecommunications computer networks in use today were those systems’ ability to immediately switch and re-route around any failures in the network but for whatever reason that did not seem to come into play last night.
I talked with Kent Dispatch this morning and they said they are thankfully back on-line with 911.
Like everyone else in our region we are anxious to better understand why the redundancy that we expected to kick-in last night, did not. I suspect those answers will come from AT&T in the days that follow.
In case you’re not aware, there is another source of emergency information that we use and recommend for situations like this — it’s the Portage Prepares web site. It offers both facebook and twitter feeds to stay current with changing emergency conditions in Portage County.
Main Website: http://www.co.portage.oh.us/
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.
Twitter Page: https://twitter.com/