Mayor: Orange County officials notified AT&T of 911 outage

Firefighters realized problem responding to house alarm

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs said that Orange County officials notified AT&T of the 911 outage Wednesday night, whereas she believes it should have been the other way around. 

Various law enforcement agencies in Central Florida provided backup emergency phone numbers earlier in the night when some AT&T customers could not call 911. Multiple Central Florida counties were affected. The issue also impacted parts of Texas, Georgia, Tennessee and Washington, D.C.

She said in the case of a similar incident in the future, she would like carriers to notify their customers with a text message or alert, similar to the Amber Alert notification system.

“It is extremely important that all our cellphone carriers understand their huge responsibility to public safety,” Jacobs said during a news conference Thursday.

Officials in Orange County first became aware when firefighters responded to a house alarm. A person inside the home was having a medical emergency and the family was forced to activate their home security system when they couldn't get through to 911.

After the patient was treated, firefighters decided to troubleshoot the problem and realized that the line would ring continuously with no answer when AT&T customers tried to call 911.

[WATCH: Orange County fire chief explains how he learned of outage]

Officials said they are not aware of any lives that were lost because of the outage. Orange County fire Chief Otto Drozd said about 172 calls came through to the alternate number during the outage, and 911 operators also received calls from people who called on behalf of another person who was unable to get through.

Drozd said when they realized the issues, they did what they had to do to get the message out to residents. 

"I mean, it’s out – tell somebody. That’s what we did," Drozd said. "As soon as we got it, we were telling people (that) this could be a problem. Seconds count, lives count. Even beyond common sense, it’s a common courtesy."

Jacobs agreed, adding that AT&T and other cellphone carriers should have a moral obligation to keep customers safe.

“At the end of the day, it’s just a moral obligation when you know lives are on the line,” Jacobs said.

News 6 reached out to AT&T and asked if the company knows what caused the outage.

AT&T responded with this statement:

“We take our 911 obligations to our customers very seriously and will be sharing additional information with the FCC."

Ajit Pai, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission said the agency is committed to finding the root of the problem. 

“Every call to 911 must go through,” Pai said. “I immediately directed FCC staff to contact AT&T about it and the company’s efforts to restore access to emergency services to the American public. I also spoke with Randall Stephenson, AT&T’s chief executive officer, and stressed the urgent need to restore service and to communicate with first responders, as well as AT&T customers, about the status of operations."

Pai said his staff has been directed to track down the root cause of the outage.

The Florida Department of Management Services, which oversees the 911 centers, said it is looking forward to reviewing AT&T's internal investigation "to help local entities make certain the proper controls are in place to keep 911 services from being impacted in the future."

AT&T has 147 million wireless customers in the U.S. and Mexico, according to its website.

Stay with News 6 for the latest information.

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