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Multistate 911 outage under investigation in North Dakota, Minnesota

Several 911 centers in North Dakota and Minnesota reported that some callers were unable to connect to dispatchers on Monday, Sept. 28. The outage lasted nearly an hour.

A close-up photo of police lights by night
A close-up photo of police lights by night
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GRAND FORKS — Officials continue to investigate the cause of a multistate 911 outage on Monday, Sept. 28, that affected calls in North Dakota and Minnesota.

The Grand Forks Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) is not believed to have been affected by the outage, but at least three other PSAPs in the state were. CenturyLink is expected to report the cause of outages in North Dakota in the coming days, as well as the number of disconnected 911 calls.

According to a release from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Emergency Communication Network division (DPS-ECN), the cause of the outage is still under investigation. However, in its preliminary review, CenturyLink says the problem originated on a partnering vendor's platform when an internal networking component failed to correctly forward traffic.

The outage began at about 6:20 p.m. and, according to DPS-ECN, lasted 48 minutes. It remains unclear why some PSAPs were affected while others weren't, said Jason Horning, the Next Generation 911 program manager for the North Dakota Association of Counties.

"There was a period of time last night that 911 calls were not getting through as they normally would," Horning said. "It happened for some of our PSAPs, and we have an idea of some of them, but we really do need to see the official reason for all the details and everything that CenturyLink is currently building."

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At this time, at least three North Dakota PSAPs are known to have experienced issues:

  • the North Dakota State 911 Center, which provides 911 services to 25 rural counties;
  • Red River Regional Dispatch Center, which provides services to Cass County and Clay County, which encompass the Fargo-Moorhead area;
  • and the Lake Region 911 Center, which serves five counties in north-central North Dakota.

Horning said that he has received an initial estimate on the number of 911 calls that were disconnected during the outage, but he described the numbers as suspiciously low, and he expects that number will be higher in the CenturyLink report.
DPS-ECN also was provided with a preliminary estimate of 135 911 calls that were disconnected in Minnesota, but after its preliminary review, DPS-ECN also believes the actual number to be higher than what was initially reported.

It's also unclear how widespread the outages were. Outages have been confirmed in North Dakota, Minnesota, South Dakota, Arizona Colorado, Utah and North Carolina.

Grand Forks PSAP Director Becky Ault said that Grand Forks dispatchers processed calls all evening without incident. If the Grand Forks PSAP was affected, she said, it was likely only for a very short amount of time. She added that they received no reports on their administrative line of 911 calls failing to go through.

This is not the first time the state has experienced a 911 outage, Horning said. The state experienced an outage that lasted nearly an hour on Aug. 1, 2018, causing 693 emergency calls in Minnesota and 46 emergency calls in North Dakota to fail. CenturyLink later said the outage was the result of a human error by the employee of a third-party vendor while making a network configuration change.

"When we develop 911 systems, we develop them to what's considered 'five nines' reliability, which is less than a minute of downtime in a year," Horning said. "So when we have an event that is more than a minute long in a year, it's serious .... There are many other states that are in the same boat as us. We're all asking the same questions of the vendors, and I suspect there'll be some action taken, if not by states, then by potentially federal agencies."

Related Topics: NORTH DAKOTAMINNESOTA
Hannah Shirley covers crime, courts and criminal justice for the Grand Forks Herald. She is a 2018 graduate of the University of Idaho and has lived and worked in Grand Forks since 2019. Prior to moving to North Dakota, she worked as a reporter for the Berkshire Record in Great Barrington, Mass., a receptionist for the Moscow-Pullman Daily News in Moscow, Idaho, and a barista in a New York City coffee shop. She can be reached by phone at (701) 780-1267 or by email at hshirley@gfherald.com.
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