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Originally published April 22, 2014 at 4:32 PM | Page modified April 23, 2014 at 3:20 PM

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Corrected version

Editorial: A disconnect for state’s 911 system

The state needs to ask tough questions about the six-hour breakdown of the state’s 911 system April 10 — lives are at stake.

Seattle Times Editorial

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So, instead of taking the system for granted, do something today that gives you an alternative. Look up the local... MORE


YOU don’t call 911 to leave a message. You don’t want to listen to hold music for a half-hour while a recording says, “Please stay on the line — your call is important to us.”

The only thing that could be worse, when you have a police, medical or fire emergency, is to not get through in the first place.

That’s what happened to about 4,500 emergency calls statewide during the wee hours of April 10, and the state ought to be looking for solutions. CenturyLink, the company that provides the backbone service for the tax-financed 911 system, tells state officials that routers in Florida and Colorado failed to communicate that morning.

So we hear horror stories, like the Everett woman who told KIRO 7 she called at least 37 times to report an intruder, but kept getting a busy signal. She confronted him with a knife. He ran.

People have come to depend on the 911 system. We learned it last year, when a severed cable snarled phone communications in the San Juan Islands for 10 days in November, and two medical-alert customers were unable to signal for help. One died.

Of course, the 911 system shouldn’t break down. But, with technology, there is a chance it will. Ultimate responsibility lies with the state to learn from mistakes and fix the problems. CenturyLink is expected to report this week to the state Utilities and Transportation Commission, which is investigating both incidents. State Emergency Management Director Robert Ezelle says his agency will conduct an inquiry of its own: “This is a humongous issue for us.”

As it should be. Routers that don’t talk to one another are no excuse. The human system should work when the technological one fails. State officials ought to be able to make a call that goes through.

Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Erik Smith, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).

Information in this article, originally published at 4:32 p.m. on April 22, 2014, was corrected at 3:20 p.m. on April 23, 2014. The previous version incorrectly stated that two Life Alert customers on the San Juan Islands were unable to signal for help and one died. They were not Life Alert customers.

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