Emergency 911 calls fail to connect in northern Vt.

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(Host) Emergency 911 telephone service was disrupted this morning across the northern half of Vermont.

State officials blamed FairPoint Communications for the failure. But the phone company had a different explanation for the problem.

VPR’s Ross Sneyd reports.

(Sneyd) For more than an hour, calls to 911 from the northern half of the state never went through.

David Serra is executive director of the enhanced 911 system for the state.

(Serra) “It entered what appeared to be a black hole.”

(Sneyd) Anyone who wanted to reach an emergency dispatcher had to look up and dial the local number for police, fire or ambulance crews. The 911 network was restored within about 90 minutes.

Serra says calls move over the telephone company’s network to two central "aggregation points” before they’re directed to an emergency dispatcher.

Serra says FairPoint’s aggregation point in Burlington failed and calls were never completed.

(Serra) “Any technology, no matter how robust – and our system is very robust and very advanced – is only as strong as its weakest link. And if you look out your window at the telephone lines coursing throughout Vermont, that’s the weakest link in the system.”

(Sneyd) Serra blamed the system crash on what he described as a technical problem at FairPoint’s center in Burlington.

But the phone company had a different take on the cause.

FairPoint spokeswoman Beth Fastiggi says the state’s Enhanced 911 Board wanted to update the system’s technology.

(Fastiggi) “At the request of the state of Vermont, we have been working with MicroData Systems, who operate the state’s E-911 system over the past several weeks to make changes in the Vermont E-911 system. Today’s issues with the Vermont 911 system were a result of these system changes and we are working with MicroData systems to determine the underlying cause.”

(Sneyd) Vermont’s E-911 Board says it does want to make changes to the system, but that shouldn’t have caused the problems.

FairPoint has had other problems with emergency 911 systems since it took over Verizon’s land-line business in northern New England.

FairPoint was penalized $25,000 for disruptions to the system in Maine. But the company says there are no similarities between the issues in Maine and what happened in Vermont.

For VPR News, I’m Ross Sneyd.


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