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AT&T 911 outage could have been prevented, FCC report shows

Orange County officials hailed for response during outage

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – The AT&T 911 outage, which affected thousands of customers in nearly every state in the nation earlier this year, including Central Florida, could have been avoided, according to a Federal Communications Commission report.

"This outage could have been prevented. It was a result of mistakes that were made by AT&T," FCC chairman Ajit Pai said during a recent meeting in Washington, D.C.

The chairman took aim at AT&T after an error caused its 911 system to fail for thousands of customers March 8. On that day Orange County first responders thought they were being called to a burglary. But a family had actually triggered their own home security system for a medical issue after several calls to 911 on their AT&T cellphone would not go through.

The FCC said the 911 calls the family were trying to make were among 12,600 others in the United States that failed during the outage. The report revealed that almost 1,000 911 calls failed in Florida, more than any other state impacted by the outage next to California. 

"When they placed that call, they heard busy signals, endless ringing or simply silence. This was unacceptable," Pai said.

The FCC report on the five-hour-long outage showed that the failure was caused by what looks like a computer error. FCC officials said it was an error AT&T should have noticed if it had conducted annual audits of its networks. The FCC recommends annual audits in its list of best practices.  

"Had AT&T followed these best practices, it could have prevented this outage or mitigated its impact,” the report read.

AT&T told News 6 in a statement it has since made changes to prevent another outage, but the company did not answer why some of those best practices were not implemented to begin with.

Orange County's response highlighted in FCC report

The FCC report also praised leaders in Central Florida for their response.

"Public safety officials in Orange County, Florida held a press conference to notify the public of the outage. This outreach was successful," according to the FCC report.

Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs said in March that the county was never notified by AT&T of the outage, in fact, they reached out to the company first. A letter Jacobs wrote to the FCC after the outage was cited multiple times in the report.

[Read the full FCC report here.]

"If you're late paying a phone bill, you're going to get a text,” Jacobs said. “You can get a text that your 911 system isn't working if you can get a text you didn't pay your phone bill.”

The FCC report showed that AT&T and its contractors tried notifying thousands of dispatch centers, but "the notifications were often unclear or missing important information, and generally took a few hours to occur."

After learning of the FCC’s findings Monday, Jacobs told News 6 in a statement, "I remain absolutely convinced that if cellphone carriers can send usage alerts and text messages to their customers, they should be obligated to use that technology to send text messages or alerts about 911 outages.”

In a statement, AT&T said, "We’ve done an extensive evaluation and concluded the problem was caused by a system configuration change affecting connectivity between a 911 vendor and our network. We’ve taken steps to prevent this from happening again."