On Christmas morning, Hannah Bleam reached out to Nashville officials to offer help after learning about the explosion. Little did she know, as a spokesperson for Williamson County’s Emergency Management Agency, she would be called into work because her county’s 911 lines went down.
A few hours after the Nashville Christmas bombing, around 24 emergency response centers in the Southeast region went dark. Residents couldn’t reach 911 dispatchers.
“So I was having to determine when to leave based off of when I needed connection,” Bleam recalls. “I knew initially the community needed to be communicated with.”
Bleam sent out alerts telling residents and local news outlets to use an alternative phone number get the word out. The county’s 911 phone lines were out in for three days.
‘Back to some sort of normalcy’
The Tennessee Emergency Communications will meet with AT&T on Feb. 3 to discuss system failures and how to create backup plans.
Williamson and many others had to rely on non-emergency phone lines to respond to emergencies, which delays response time because the responders don’t immediately know where the caller is. And the phone line capacity isn’t the same.
Phone lines weren’t as busy in many counties, since it was Christmas morning and not a regular weekday. But it did show the county leaders that they need to review their back up plans to ensure 911 lines don’t go out.
“Wayne County wasn’t able to get 911 calls, but Hardin County could, so they switched,” Tennessee Emergency Number Association executive director Maureen Culbertson says. “So Hardin County was getting all of the Wayne County 911 calls, taking the information and then relaying it back to Wayne County.
TENA President Justin Crowther says it shows the emergency response agencies’ willingness to support each other. Crowther is also the Director of the Jefferson County 911 Association and says their Verizon and T-Mobile lines also went down.
“We’ve taken care of our communities and that’s what’s important right now: getting our network stabilized where we can get back to some sort of normalcy,” he says. “And then focus on our failures and try and make that better so that something like this doesn’t affect 911 so critically.”
Determining what happened and how to create backup plans will be taken up by the Tennessee Emergency Communications Board. The group expected to meet with AT&T on Monday, but has postponed questioning until February.
“This decision is intended to allow AT&T to prioritize the needs of affected Tennesseans and focus its resources on continuing to restore service and repair its facilities,” the board said.