Hillsborough commissioners consider legal action after county-wide 911 outage

Published February 1 2018
Updated February 1 2018

TAMPA — Hillsborough County commissioners told staff attorneys Thursday to investigate whether the board can take legal action against Frontier Communications for knocking out the county’s 911 phone service during a massive network outage.

The temporary outages began around midnight Wednesday, crippling emergency phone lines throughout Central Florida for hours at a time. Emergency calls went unanswered for at least two hours overnight in Hillsborough, Sarasota, Manatee and Charlotte counties, officials said.

A second outage shortly after 11 a.m. Wednesday lasted about 90 minutes, suspending 911 service completely in Hillsborough and in parts of Pinellas County.

"Couple this serious issue with Frontier’s rough start after the Verizon acquisition and that leads me to ask, ‘What in the world is going on over at Frontier?’ " Commissioner Stacy White said in Thursday’s meeting.

Frontier blamed the problem, in part, on work being done by telecommunications company Century Link that caused computers to stop transmitting 911 calls. The work involved moving cables for a road widening project near Clewiston.

White said the blame lies solely with Frontier for not ensuring safeguards were in place.

"Local government resources were used to respond to this crisis," White said. "I’d like to know how much this cost taxpayers, and Frontier should most certainly be responsible for repaying this."

Emergency responders say there’s no way to know how many 911 calls went unanswered Wednesday.

"This is serious. People could have died as a result of this," White said.

In other action Thursday:

• The board unanimously approved a motion by Commissioner Ken Hagan for staffers to draft possible changes to the existing ordinances regulating dance halls and special events in the county. Hagan initiated the review after two teens, one a 15-year-old girl, were fatally shot by security guards during a "teens-only" New Years Eve party illegally held in a commercial warehouse.

Contact Anastasia Dawson at adawson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3377. Follow @adawsonwrites.