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CALL 6: What would you do if you called 911 and got a busy signal?

Posted: 9:26 AM, Feb 22, 2019
Updated: 2019-02-22 09:26:39-05
"911. What is your emergency?" sign

INDIANAPOLIS — In an emergency and when seconds count, we call 911 to get help. But what would you do if you tried calling that lifeline and all you got was a busy signal? It was a reality across the State of Indiana last week when a significant part of the 911 system failed.

Just after 7 p.m. on Friday, February 15, the state's service provider that handles and routes 911 calls from cell phones to emergency dispatch centers across the Hoosier State stopped working.

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The failure caused people in some counties like Madison, Hamilton, Tippecanoe, Henry, Hancock, Tipton, Randolph and more across the state to get a busy tone or have their calls never connect if they called 911.

If you call 911 from a cell phone in the state of Indiana, the call is run through servers at INdigital, the statewide service provider for wireless 911 calls. The servers process the emergency call and then route it to the correct 911 center from where the call is coming from.

INdigital tells RTV6 the outage stems from a failure of a critical database that affected call routing services. This critical element failure then cascaded to also impact other parts of the network. Overall the outage lasts for a little less than an hour.

But what does that mean and what made it fail? We went to Indiana's Statewide 911 Board looking for answers. "What the actual root cause at that time, what occurred at that time, we do not have that complete answer."

"Any 911 call that is missed is one too many," said Ed Reuter, the Executive Director of Indiana's Statewide 911 Board.

The Statewide 911 Board tells Call 6 Investigates' Paris Lewbel that 200 to 300 emergency calls never made it through to emergency dispatchers during the outage.

The system is supposed to have a backup, but that also didn't work correctly either. "We think even though it didn't work 100%, we do feel it did minimize the amount of calls that weren't delivered."

Reuter tells Call 6, the investigation is on-going. But in the connected age and cybersecurity often rises to the top of people's minds, could this be a hack or an intentional act?

"I think, we're going to have to let the investigation for that to come up with an answer on that."

The outage was fixed in a little less than on Friday and the state continues to investigate exactly what happened.

So what should you do if it ever happens again? Officials suggest finding the non-emergency number to your local county dispatch center and programming it in your cell phone.

Those calls are processed as normal telephone calls and are picked up by the same dispatchers who can dispatch police, firefighters or paramedics.