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Dorchester County learning lessons following 911 outage

Updated: May. 21, 2021 at 11:15 PM EDT
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DORCHESTER COUNTY, S.C. (WCSC) - 911 dispatch centers throughout the Lowcountry are learning lessons for the future after a phone outage caused a widespread system failure.

On Thursday, an AT&T fiber line cut through a third party impacting telephone service to dispatch centers for more than six hours. The outage affected Charleston, Berkeley, Dorchester, and Colleton counties.

In Dorchester County, officials said they have protocols in place for when their system fails, but this was a situation they have not seen before.

“We have back up plans. We have what we refer to as continuity of operations plans to ensure that if there is a disruption that we can transfer the calls to a neighboring 911 center,” said Mario Formisano, Dorchester Interim Deputy County Administrator for Public Safety. “This case was unique because the disruption was occurring in the region, so it wasn’t just that simple to say well, we’ll send our calls to Summerville or to Charleston or to Berkeley. We had to work collectively across jurisdictional boundaries initially to come up with what the solution was going to be in the short term.”

At first, the county transferred their calls to the Berkeley County 911 center until they learned the outage could take longer than expected. Formisano said they worked internally to establish a 10-digit phone number they could use to reroute 911 calls.

The center received 634 calls through the 10-digit number. They say if this ever happens again, they have procedures in place to switch to that emergency number so they can maintain operations.

“What was unique for us is we have an alert notification system called Everbridge, and we are also signatories to a federal agreement to activate the integrated public alert and warning system or IPAWS,” Formisano said. " For the first time ever yesterday, we used to Everbridge and IPAWS to send a mass notification out to the entire county to make them aware of the outage and the 10-digit number to call.”

The outage created increased wait times throughout the Lowcountry, so Dorchester County officials say if you are calling 911, you should be prepared to tell them your location right away.

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