Backup 911 plan in works for SC county after family loses home in outage

Beaufort County residents were unable to reach 911 via mobile devices last week after lightning struck a cellphone tower, causing an outage


By Teresa Moss
The Island Packet

BEAUFORT COUNTY, S.C. — Beaufort County residents were unable to reach 911 via mobile devices last week after lightning struck a cellphone tower, causing an outage.

County officials previously said they didn’t have a backup plan in place for such an outage. They are working on one now, according to a news release.

The inability to reach emergency dispatchers delayed firefighters’ response to a massive blaze that destroyed a Lady’s Island home Aug. 19 , the homeowners believe.

When an alternate number went out more than 12 hours after emergency administrators knew of the outage, the county’s emergency management director had not tried to reach the alternate number by cellphone and didn’t know whether cellphones were able to connect, he said.

On Friday, regional emergency officials including Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner met with a supervisor of CenturyLink — the company that operates the 911 equipment, a news release from the Sheriff’s Office states.

The meeting yielded a several step backup plan, the release says. The plan includes:

  • CenturyLink notifying emergency officials immediately following a disruption to service.
  • Replacement parts will be stored locally to prevent delays in repairs.
  • Plans to research a geo-diverse backup 911 system as an option.

“The Sheriff’s Office is committed to delivering the highest quality of public safety services,” The release says. “Should an issue with 911 arise again, and until a backup system is in place, the public will be notified immediately of 911 issues and provided an alternative telephone number to reach Emergency Dispatch in order to receive help.”

Lt. Col. Neil Baxley, commander of the Beaufort County Emergency Management Division, helps plan for and respond to disasters and emergencies such as storms and hurricanes in the county and is paid an annual salary of $106,693 as of June. He said the outage was the first known failure of its kind since 911 service came to the county in 1989.

Copyright 2018 The Island Packet

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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