What happens when 911 goes down?

Posted at 10:45 PM, Oct 28, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-28 23:45:54-04

911 is a necessity when it comes to getting help in an emergency. But if there is a 911 outage, that help may not be available.

In 2015 the Nebraska State Commission reported there were about 65 outages in Nebraska. As of September 2016, there have been over 50, eight of those in Omaha, and all from a cut cable.

In order for contractors to dig for a job, they first have to make sure they aren't going to hit any gas, power, water, or fiber optic lines, so they get them marked. Unfortunately the system to get them marked doesn’t always work.

“The lines are being cut, and they are being cut one to two times a week, and it's substantial,” said State Commissioner, Crystal Rhoades.

As we saw in the M's Pub explosion, a contractor installing a fiber-optic line hit a gas line. While the investigation is still underway, early drafts from the fire marshal said the lines were not properly marked.

Telecommunication lines are also being cut and that is affecting 911.

“It can impact cell phones, it can impact landlines, it can impact both, and it depends on who cut the cable, and where they cut it if service goes down,” said Rhoades. 

She has been working with several agencies to avoid these 911 outages.

Contractor Chris Maxey said something needs to done, “People need to be held accountable.”

Maxey runs Utilities Media Contractor. He deals with digging into the ground everyday for his job, and avoiding the infrastructure below.

“No way in part does any contractor want to cause damage to anything that’s our livelihood; we put people's lives in jeopardy,” said Maxey.

One of the problems contractors have been facing is lines are not marked or are improperly marked.

The commission said that 68% of the time the 911 outages are caused by a cable being cut. The number of people affected depends on the line, and it also depends if that line will re-route callers to 911 another way.

Maxey said there needed to be talk about these lines getting cut a long time ago, “they don't have 911 services, that is problem.”

The Nebraska 811 Board, which is responsible for dealing with location requests, said they are in the process of updating the current one call law, which is 22 years old.

Board Chair Val Snyder said "We need to make some changes now, in order to be up to date with today's technology."

Updates would involve better communication when a marking is done or not done, stricter rules on what is needed during an excavation, and better enforcement.

“We are going to move forward and it will continue to improve,” said Rhodes.

Commissioner Rhoades said the importance of preventing these line cuts is critical and actions are just now being taken.