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Outage puts 911 system down for hours

(ran PW, PS editions)

Residents calling 911 received not a reassuring voice and a prompt response but a busy signal Sunday afternoon as the county's 911 system crashed in northeast Pasco County.

The initial outage occurred at 2:24 p.m. and lasted until 10:10 a.m. Monday.

"That's a loooong time," said R.J. Kortweg, the 911 support technician for Pasco County.

The source of the crash is somewhere on the trunk line between switching stations in Haines City and Zephyrhills. Verizon technicians were at work on the problem within 45 minutes of the outage.

"More than a single problem created this, and we don't have an answer yet for what caused it," Kortweg said.

After the system crashed, dispatchers used the reverse 911 directory to call the 13,000 affected residents in northeast Pasco County. A recorded message told them of the problem as well as the alternative phone numbers to use for an emergency. Kortweg said he also called television stations to broadcast reports of the problems with the 911 system.

A lightning storm knocked out the phone lines and power to the sheriff's east Pasco communications center for three hours in August 2002. Dispatchers in west Pasco took emergency calls and relayed them through an interoffice phone line to dispatchers in east Pasco. They then used cell phones to communicate with deputies.

In July 2001, a computer glitch shut down Verizon's long-distance telephone service for 10 hours, affecting 2.4-million customers.