Phone work disrupts 911

LISBON – A planned phone outage by AT&T led to some 911 calls for the Columbiana County Sheriff’s Office to be forwarded elsewhere in the early hours Monday.

Chief Deputy Allen Haueter said the sheriff’s office was not notified about the outage, which occurred at about 12:30 a.m. Monday. When telephone crews were located by deputies on U.S. Route 30, it was learned the outage was planned and service was going to be interrupted for about an hour.

Dispatchers reportedly were unable to utilize the telephones or computer Internet. Cell phone coverage in the basement of the county jail is weak and dispatchers are not allowed to utilize their personal cell phones at work anyway, Haueter said.

The sheriff’s department utilizes the Multi-Agency Radio Communication System (MARCS), but few departments across the county are on the same system. That made it difficult for deputies to learn about the 911 calls, which are automatically sent to other departments when one 911 center goes down.

Besides the county sheriff’s office, there are 911 centers in Salem, East Liverpool, East Palestine and Columbiana. East Palestine dispatchers managed to alert deputies of one dispute outside of East Palestine by speaking to county dispatchers on a fire radio band used by several fire departments.

Dispatchers did manage to use their own phones to contact some people and alert them to the outage. Fire departments, which contract with the county for dispatching, also have a phone at their fire stations or a members home so the calls were still ringing to those numbers.

Haueter said they eventually were able to set up a satellite telephone, which was given to the sheriff’s office several years ago by those at the Beaver Valley power plant near Shippingport, Pa. This allowed the sheriff’s office to make calls and receive them, if the caller waited on the line long enough for the signal to go up to the satellite and return to earth. Haueter noted there is a delay, but he is grateful the sheriff’s office has that satellite phone for such emergencies.

In all, the phone system was down about 69 minutes. Haueter said it is not believed any emergencies were missed during that time.

“The problem was there was no forewarning,” Haueter said. “It could have been a serious situation.”