Major 911 outages in 4 states leave millions without an easy way to contact authorities

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Law enforcement agencies across four states were left scrambling following reports of major 911 outages that left millions unable to quickly contact authorities in emergencies late Wednesday.

Many of the outages — reported in Nebraska, Nevada, South Dakota and Texas — were restored by the late evening, but the Federal Communications Commission said Thursday its investigation is just getting started.

"When you call 911 in an emergency, it is vital that call goes through. The FCC has already begun investigating the 911 multi-state outages that occurred last night to get to the bottom of the cause and impact," FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said.

So far, there’s no indication that the outages were caused by a cyberattack or other malicious act, law enforcement officials told NBC News on Thursday.

The outages appear to be related to Lumen Technologies, a spokesperson for the communications and telecom company said.

On Wednesday, some customers in Nevada, South Dakota and Nebraska "experienced an outage" when a third-party company, unrelated to Lumen, "physically cut our fiber" while "installing a light pole," company spokesperson Mark Molzen said.

"We restored all services in approximately two and a half hours," he said. Lumen doesn't provide 911 services in Texas, Molzen added.

"Our techs identified the issue and worked hard to fix it as quickly as possible," he said. "We apologize for the inconvenience and appreciate our customers’ patience and understanding."

On Thursday, the Honolulu Police Department said in a social media post that the 911 system was down. Twenty minutes later, a subsequent post said the system was working again.

It is unclear what caused the outage reported by the police department.

Wednesday's outage comes on the heels of a widespread AT&T outage in February that left thousands without service across multiple states and affected some calls to 911 for hours, which the carrier said was most likely caused by a process error — not a cyberattack.

Local law enforcement agencies reported a statewide outage in South Dakota shortly before 7 p.m. local time (9 p.m. ET) Wednesday. Rapid City police offered locals alternative phone numbers to call for first responders, and service was restored about two hours later.

The South Dakota Department of Public Safety said Wednesday evening that “texting to 9-1-1 is operating in most locations” as an option to contact authorities.

Sioux Falls Fire Assistant Chief Mike Gramlick said in a news conference Thursday the outage was confirmed at 7:59 p.m. local time and restored to full capacity by 10:38 p.m.

“During the duration of the outage, Metro Communications received 112 calls for service” that were able to come through via open line numbers and by texting 911, he said.

Gramlick added: “For reference, typically during the same time period for the day and the week, Metro Communications takes 114 calls. To our knowledge, we have never experienced an outage of this magnitude or duration.”

The city also issued a wireless emergency alert to notify the public about the 911 system outage.

In Douglas County, Nebraska, officials echoed Lumen's statement about the cut fiber.

Lumen Technologies told Douglas County 911 that “there was a fiber cut, but they did not disclose the location of the damage,” said Kathy Allen, the director of Douglas County 911. Service for the agency was “completely restored” by 4 a.m. Thursday, Allen said.

Kyle Kramer, a technical technician for Douglas County 911, said there was no consistency to which wireless carriers were unable to get through to dispatch.

"We did find that there were variations in which wireless carriers couldn't reach 911 depending on what part of the state you were located in," Kramer said.

Telecommunication companies have their own choices in how to route emergency calls to 911 control centers, but Kramer noted that it's beyond the command center's control. Lumen also informed Douglas County that the outage that hit Nevada, South Dakota and Nebraska was not the same issues that caused issues in Texas.

"So it would make sense that somebody at a higher level than just the state would be investigating when there's multiple states impacted by something like this, especially if there's two very distinct and separate outages at the same time," Kramer said in reference to the FCC investigation.

In Nevada, Las Vegas police said around 7 p.m. local time (10 p.m. ET) that "there is a 911 outage impacting your ability to contact us right now." Locals were urged to dial 911 on mobile devices, which dispatch was able to see and call back, and said calls from landlines "are NOT working at the moment."

Calls were working again by 9 p.m. (midnight ET). “All of the individuals who called during the outage have been called back and provided assistance,” the department said.

Some agencies said the issue was with wireless carriers.

Sarpy County 911 in Nebraska shared Wednesday night on X night that “some wireless carriers are not able to reach 911.” The matter was resolved about three hours later.

Del Rio police in Texas wrote on social media Wednesday evening the issue was "with the carrier and not the City of Del Rio systems.”

The issue appeared to be with T-Mobile's service, Juan Hernandez, the department's communications supervisor, said Thursday morning.

"Anybody who is a T-Mobile customer was having problems using their phones,” Hernandez said. “It was nothing that was on our end. There was no 911 outage. It was a T-Mobile coverage outage.”

He said that customers alerted T-Mobile about having issues Wednesday evening and that it was ultimately resolved. No injuries or serious issues were reported in connection with the service disruption.

However, the Chase County Sheriff’s Office said that “911 is down across the State of Nebraska” for all cellular carriers except T-Mobile and that landlines were still able to get through to 911.

An AT&T spokesperson said Thursday: “Our network is operating normally. There appeared to be an issue on another carrier’s network that could have affected calls to 9-1-1.”

The carrier also said the disruption was “not a FirstNet issue,” referring to the nationwide broadband network for public safety commissioned by the government and built by AT&T. The network is overseen by the First Responder Network Authority, an independent agency within the Commerce Department.

Today’s 911 service isn’t a nationwide system, said retired Rear Adm. David Simpson, who was the chief of the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau from 2013 to 2017.

“There are over 6,000 jurisdictions for 911,” he said, adding that “the decisions made for equipment and budget vary from state to state to state.”

From more cables for path diversity to multiple telecommunications carriers and updated equipment to multiple routers, Simpson said, the current system is “missing resilient backups” that could prevent an outage on several levels.

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