An Akron area steam pipe burst, knocking out ability to contact 911. Emergency crews responded by setting up alternative emergency cellphone numbers and staying visible and available.
Four Canton firefighters took posts on the top floor of City Hall for several hours overnight Tuesday into Wednesday to scan for fires after 911 communications went down throughout the county.
Each looked out over one direction of the city from the 8th floor in the event that smoke would signal a fire or some other emergency need could be seen from above.
Battalion Chief Thomas Garra said another firefighter was stationed atop Aultman Hospital and five more went to Malone University overlooking U.S. Route 62.
No major problems were reported.
As AT&T officials blamed a burst steam pipe in Akron for costing residents in several counties their ability to reach 911 in an emergency for several hours, those who needed help here simply flagged down police officers or drove to the nearest fire stations.
Emergency officials gave out temporary emergency phone numbers via other cellphones and Internet services that were working. They also used news media and social media while working to stay available and visible.
HOW IT HAPPENED
“It was an AT&T phone and Internet outage; not a 911 outage. It affected their phone lines, but our physical 911 system was still working. People just could not call it,” said Tim Warstler, director of the Stark County Emergency Management Agency.
Holly Hollingsworth at AT&T’s Columbus headquarters released a statement about 1:30 a.m. Wednesday stating the outage was the result of the broken pipe. Hollingsworth said later Wednesday that no new information was available.
“Most services affected by a burst steam pipe in an AT&T switching office early Tuesday evening are now restored. Technicians are still onsite working to resolve remaining issues affecting a small number of Akron-area customers. We apologize for this inconvenience,” she said in an email to The Repository.
But 911 service wasn’t the only thing disrupted; cellphone and Internet customers also were affected.
“Last night was extremely unusual,” said Dean McKimm, director of Canton’s emergency dispatch system. “There really was no other alternative to call for police than to just flag an officer down or for the police officers to notice something going on.”
AGENCIES SCRAMBLE TO REACT
Plain Township Fire Chief Don Snyder called in additional personnel to man stations. He asked firefighters to notify the community via friends, family and Facebook or Twitter about the cellphone numbers other area emergency agencies used as a temporary replacement for 911. And he asked Plain Local Schools to notify residents via the school system’s electronic notification system.
During the outage, his department had four incidents in which people needed help: One involved a nursing home patient who needed to be taken to an area hospital, another was a false medical alarm and a third was an odor complaint on Orchardale Drive NW, called in from Canal Fulton firefighters who had received the call from Akron. Snyder said someone who lives a block from Station 3 at 25th Street and Broad Avenue NE walked in to report a medical problem.
Canton police received four requests for service between 7 and 11 p.m. — during a time when they would normally have received 15 to 20 calls, said Capt. Jack Angelo, who heads the patrol division. None involved life-threatening issues.
“All of our phone lines and our Internet were down,” he said, adding that, as a result, “We tried to stay visible.”
The AT&T system was mostly restored during the early morning hours in Stark County, Warstler said, noting about 8 a.m. that a couple of remaining issues existed. Dispatchers had trouble accessing Minerva and Perry Township police departments’ administrative lines, he said, adding that those issues have been resolved for the time being.
“But we were up last night about 95 percent by 2 a.m.”
While told the AT&T issue affected only four counties, Warstler said he knows if at least seven, including Stark, Summit, Mahoning, Portage, Medina, Columbiana and part of Wayne counties.
“We will be expecting answers from AT&T as to why some of what we consider to be our backups were also affected,” he said.
Reach Lori at 330-580-8309 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter: @lmonsewiczREP