In a year that had offered one surprise difficulty after another, Christmas 2020 followed suit when a bomb, housed in an RV, was driven down Nashville’s Second Avenue and, when detonated, damaging among other things, the AT& T building and leaving much of the mid-state without cell service and more importantly disrupting the E-911 service to those same areas.
“They believe the original blast crushed and demolished the generators that served the AT&T building,” Suzi Haston, White County E-911 director, explained. “The batteries held up for a few hours, so some areas lost service sooner than others.”
According to Haston, White County E-911 never lost service on the wired land lines, meaning anyone who needed assistance could still call 911 from a landline. She explained that cell phones could not call 911 in most counties across the mid-state and even parts of Kentucky because AT&T houses the servers for the ESI NET-NG911 used to route 911 calls, meaning that while the destruction disrupted cell service, as well as internet and TV services for all AT&T customers, it also disrupted the 911 service for any cell/wireless device, regardless of the customer’s provider.
“We immediately put a message out to residents to use our 738-7111 line should they need to call us from a wireless (cell) phone in the case of an emergency,” Haston said, noting that many people no longer possess landlines as well as understanding that many emergencies happen away from homes and businesses where only cell phones are available for summoning help. “We notified citizens by our Emergency Notification System, social media, NewsChannel 5, Sparta Police Department’s message board, and word of mouth.”
White County uses a Hyper Reach System that sends emergency messages to all landlines in the county as well as any cell phones whose users have subscribed to the system.
“This went out by calls, texts, and social medial through our system.,” Haston said. “Any place we could get the word out, we did.”
Haston said that as of Dec. 28, White County dispatch was receiving 911 wireless calls again, but they have not rescinded the messages about using the 738-7111 number as the service still has had some intermittent problems.
“For some time, we were also having other counties’ 911 calls routed to us, and we would transfer back to them on a landline or designated cell phone in their dispatches,” she added and then said they expect all services to return to normal by the end of the week.
“We have an Upper Cumberland 911 Director’s Association, and we all stick together and have each other’s back in all situations,” Haston, who is also the current president of the association, said. “Everyone was willing and eager to help each other out by taking their 911 calls when needed, etc.”
Haston did say there was supposed to be a re-routing/back-up plan, but that the actual details about why that may not have picked up aren’t available yet as AT&T had to wait until investigators allowed them to re-access the building to begin getting any services back online and to begin their own investigations into what happened to their equipment.
“Unfortunately, we are waiting on AT&T to explain exactly what happened,” she said. “There is nothing we can do locally, but our state 911 board is diligently working with AT&T on this.”
As far as costs incurred by the service disruption, Haston said she has been asked to keep up with those, but for White County that just meant extra dispatchers on duty to handle the overages from other counties.
“I can honestly say that we have the BEST dispatchers ever!” she said. “Everyone pitched in, worked over, did what they needed to help. ‘No one stands alone’ is our motto, and they all lived up to that this week. Our emergency personnel throughout White and surrounding counties are all some of the best.”
“We are thankful that, although, this was a horrible action, no lives were taken except for the one responsible,” Haston added and stated that to her knowledge no calls were lost during the brief time it took to get the word out to White County residents that they should use the alternate number. “We can rebuild. We can get new equipment. We can overcome, and we will by the grace of God.”
Tennessee Emergency Communications Board will be having a public meeting Jan. 4th with AT&T present, and Haston said more information should be available after that meeting.