A 911 console at Knox County 911, which provides rapid emergency assistance and dispatch services to public safety partners.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story is in response to a reader-submitted question through Open Source, a platform where readers can submit questions to the staff.

MOUNT VERNON — The 911 phone line in Knox County has gone down twice in the last few weeks. 

The reason why? On Nov. 5 and Oct. 16, CenturyLink — the provider the county uses for its emergency lines — had area outages.

Mark Molzen, global issues director for Lumen Technologies (the rebrand of CenturyLink), wrote in an email to Knox Pages that services were restored within hours on Oct. 16 and within 24 hours on Nov. 5. 

“On Oct. 16 and Nov. 5, third-party companies doing construction cut our fiber, which resulted in loss of phone and internet service for customers in Mansfield and Knox County,” Molzen wrote. 

Knox County replaced four non-emergency lines at the sheriff’s office in July, switching from CenturyLink to Spectrum, after repeated outages. But the 911 lines remain controlled by CenturyLink because the state (and the country’s system at large) remains based on landline technology, said Kyle Webb, director for information technology services in Knox County.

However, 911 technology may soon change.

The Ohio 9-1-1 Program Office has been heading efforts to transition to Next Generation 911, a system that will change 911 lines from fiber optic-powered broadband to internet. The system change is included in Ohio House Bill 445, which was introduced in October. 

Webb and others from Knox County will join state leadership, the National Emergency Number Association, the Association of Public-Safety Communications, and other Ohio counties in late November to discuss the change further. The 9-1-1 Program Office also has regular teleconferences. The next will occur Nov. 15. 

There is no guarantee this new system will be implemented, nor is there a timeline for when it would be. 

In the meantime, regarding the recent outages in Knox County, the non-emergency lines provided a temporary solution while the 911 lines were down.  

People could call the non-emergency lines for emergencies during the 911 outage because those lines were handled by a different provider. 

“If we actually hadn’t (switched non-emergency lines to Spectrum), there would have been no way to reach our dispatch center when CenturyLink was down completely,” Webb said. 

Phone calls from the 911 line could not be forwarded straight to the non-emergency lines because CenturyLink is only able to forward calls to other CenturyLink lines, which were all down in the area.  

The most recent CenturyLink outage affected surrounding counties as well, preventing the county’s other fail-safes from working. 

Knox County’s 911 calls are supposed to go to other county 911 lines when service is down. However, the recent outages reached as far as Richland County, Webb and Molzen confirmed, thus preventing the forwarding of calls to other nearby areas. 

“They were actually kind of our saving grace,” Webb said about the non-emergency lines. 

Although the Knox County 911 line could not receive calls, the dispatch center was still alerted when people tried to call during the outage. 

Knox County 911 operations director Laura Webster said the Rapid SOS system, which tracks cell phone location and records the phone number of people who call 911, remained in place during the outages. Therefore, the dispatch center could call back those numbers using the non-emergency lines, and dispatch people to the emergency location if needed.

During the latest November outage, the 911 line received 18-20 calls, and responders were dispatched to respond to two, Webster said. 

The Knox Pages Open Source section is brought to you by Habitat for Humanity of Knox County.

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