GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The call came into the Kent County Emergency Communications Center just after 3 a.m. Friday: The caller at the other end of the line was having an asthma attack and needed help.
But the person in distress couldn’t hear a word dispatchers were saying.
“That threw us for a loop, but we have some creative employees who were working at the time,” Kent County Emergency Communications Director Matt Groesser said. “This was a different situation that required a different solution last night.”
Using the Smart911 technology that allows dispatcher centers to send messages out, dispatchers were able to text the 911 caller and get someone to the patient.
“They were able to establish communications that way, and we got the required help to the patient,” Groesser said.
The same scenario played out at dispatch centers in 40 counties across the state early Friday amid a widespread outage of 911 services. Service was restored later Friday morning.
The problem began when a power outage crashed a piece of transmission equipment for a fiber line run by Peninsula Fiber Network, a Marquette-based company that provides fiber service for most 911 centers in Michigan.
Peninsula Fiber Network General Manager David McCartney told News 8 there was no maintenance or upgrades happening at the time, as early reports suggested. The company is still trying to track down the source of the problem.
In a statement to News 8, McCartney said, “We’re committed to getting every 911 call to the correct place in a timely matter all the time.”
The medical call was the most serious of the 28 that came in to Kent County during the outage, which lasted from around 2 a.m. to around 6 a.m. All were followed up on.
Until Peninsula Fiber Network tracks down the source of the problem, 911 directors are asking you to find and write down the nonemergency number to the center serving you is case 911 goes out again. The Grand Rapids Police Department is asking people to call 616.456.3444 if 911 fails again.
If it does, emergency operators are ready to improvise.
“We hire humans for this work on purpose, and it’s because they can take a situation, understand the resources that are available and make a judgment call in the heat of the moment,” Groesser said. “That’s exactly what they did last night.”