Officials say 911 outages not affecting responsiveness

A 911 outage over the weekend affected local cellphone callers and the outages have been a reccurring issue over the past few weeks. Monroe, Trempealeau, La Crosse and Jackson counties have all been affected by the issues.

Saturday’s outage in Monroe County affected some cellphone users attempting to call 911.

“This last outage was primarily with Verizon and their wireless system, whereas 911 calls from cellphones apparently did not reach some of the dispatch centers in our area,” said Randy Williams, director of the Monroe County 911 Communications Center.

When an issue arises, they’re notified by a cell provider or telephone company — depending on the type of outage.

“They will send us emails and give us phone calls alerting us to a problem and that they’re working on it,” Williams said.

While crews work to fix the issue, the calls were put through the backup system so no calls were lost. But the caller’s number and location didn’t come through as usual.

“We did lose that information but we do ask and verify the location of people when they call,” Williams said.

It was the same way the La Crosse County dispatch center had to operate earlier this month when a cut to a telephone network’s fiber line limited its capabilities.

“In this case, a few of the cellular providers went down. Our landlines stayed up and then a couple of the providers were actually able to get through to us on 911,” said Jay Loeffler, director of La Crosse County Emergency Services.

Through their own test calls, they found US Cellular, Sprint and Verizon customers were affected.

“It turned out that AT&T was able to get through to us. Landlines, we tested landlines immediately and those were able to get through to us,” Loeffler said.

But most people make 911 calls on cellphones, so they weren’t able to get location or caller information for the majority of the calls.

“Only 20 percent of the capability of getting all the information that we normally would with a 911 call happened on that date,” Loeffler said.

In a case where landline calls wouldn’t be coming through, there is another backup system. Calls in Trempealeau, Jackson, La Crosse and Monroe Counties can be diverted to each other so all calls are still answered.

Officials urge people to keep their local non-emergency phone numbers on hand for the police and fire departments. They say not only are these good to have on hand if an outage occurs but to use these any time you don’t need an immediate response