Verizon blames ‘routing’ error for Baltimore 911 outage

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Credit: Eric Hauser

Residents of Baltimore who dialed 911 were unable to reach emergency dispatchers for more than two hours Tuesday evening and Verizon is laying the blame on a call-routing error.

From the Baltimore Sun:

Officials at Verizon — the service provider for the city's 911 system — said the phone company received an automated alert at 7:48 p.m. reporting that 911 calls were failing. Verizon spokesman John O'Malley said the company eventually determined that emergency calls were mistakenly routed to an empty back-up call center in the city.

"Technically the calls were coming in, but they were getting routed to a location where no one was there to pick up," O'Malley said.

Instead, calls to 911 were answered with a recorded message: "Baltimore City emergency center, all operators are busy. Your call will be answered in turn. Please do not hang up."

Obviously, that message was neither accurate nor useful.

While by no means alone as a transgressor, Verizon just last year agreed to pay $3.4 million to settle an FCC investigation into another 911 outage.   

“Americans must have confidence that they will be able to reach 911 in an emergency,” said Chairman Tom Wheeler about that settlement.  “We take seriously our obligation to ensure the nation’s 911 systems function reliably.  We will continue to work with providers to ensure that advances in 911 technologies lead to improved communications between citizens and first responders.”

Right now they’re failing spectacularly, as a search on “911 system failure” will show.

While there’s nothing funny about needing emergency assistance when 911 isn’t working or the dispatcher cannot pinpoint your location, the overall state of the nation’s 911 system can make for comedic fodder, as HBO’s John Oliver proved recently with this enlightening yet hilarious bit.

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