An air conditioning problem may have caused communication problems with 911 in Butler County on Tuesday, September 28.
At approximately 4:07 p.m. on September 28, a notification alerted residents of the service disruption.
“The Butler County Sheriff wishes to inform the public that the 911 phone lines are currently down,” the notification reads.
The notification also asked residents to call the sheriff’s office directly at 402-367-7400 for emergency assistance.
A little over two hours later, at approximately 6:15 pm, another notification indicated that the 911 lines were “back up and functioning normally”.
The Omaha World-Herald reported that Butler, Polk and Saunders counties lost service on September 28 when air conditioning failed in a building that housed telephone equipment.
According to Butler County Emergency Management Coordinator Mark Doehling, some telephone equipment can be very sensitive to temperature fluctuations.
Despite the September 28 problems, emergency services communications continued in Butler County.
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During the outage, David City Volunteer Fire Chief Mark Sloup said crews had always been told of a small fire.
“We’re just lucky they figured out how to communicate,” Sloup said. “We had a good, quick response which certainly helped minimize the damage.”
Sloup said the notification came from the dispatch center at the Butler County Courthouse, 451 N. Fifth St. in David City, as he normally would.
Doehling said shipping services for fire, rescue and law enforcement in Butler County are routed through this shipping hub.
Dispatchers are responsible for accepting emergency calls and relaying the need for service to emergency responders.
When someone calls 911 from a cell phone, the available tower closest to their cell phone provider will take the call. The call is then routed to an available distribution tower near this cell tower.
Depending on where the caller is located and the amount of phone traffic at the time of their call, Doehling said, their call could be picked up by one of Butler County’s dispatch towers or by a dispatch tower owned by to another county.
If the calls are handled by a tower owned by another dispatch center – such as the one in Columbus which handles dispatch communications for a number of agencies in the Platte County area – Doehling said the dispatch center can transfer the call to the correct dispatch center.
Once the dispatcher receives the call, it is his responsibility to inform emergency responders of the situation. Firefighters, rescuers and law enforcement help by using their best judgment to determine who is closest and most available to answer a call.
Doehling said all emergency response agencies in Butler County use dedicated frequencies to communicate with each other and with dispatch, and that those communications go through a paging tower.
There are several redundancies in place to maintain local 911 communications, but the September 28 issue appears to have been out of the hands of Butler County.
“When it comes to our infrastructure, nothing has gone wrong,” Doehling said.
Molly Hunter is a reporter for The Banner-Press. Contact her by email at [email protected]