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Several cellphone customers unable to call 911 in Tuesday's outage

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HAMILTON COUNTY, TN (WRCB) -

More than 11,000 cellphone customers in the Southeast had no service and no Internet connection for about four hours on Tuesday.
    
AT&T says it was a hardware related issue that has been fixed. 
    
But during that time, many people tried to place calls to the Hamilton County 911 center and could not get through. 

"Most of them called in on a landline at that point to let us know they couldn't get through on cellular," said 911 Center Director of Operations Jeff Carney.

Hamilton County's 911 Center gets about 2,000 calls a day

But during a roughly four-hour long cellular outage Tuesday, some of calls for help did not go through.

"We did hear some reports of people having trouble getting through," Carney said, "But it didn't seem to affect any emergency responses."

Many households have dropped landlines altogether, 1 in 4 families rely solely on cellphones.

"Remember that telephone service is a public utility, a lot like power and water," Carney said, "So just like your power can go out and you can lose your water service, phone can go out also."

Tuesday's outage is a good reminder to have a backup plan in case of an emergency.

But even the best plan might mean more time spent searching for a working phone.

"If the cellular service is completely out, unfortunately they're going to have to look for a business or one of those rare pay phones now-a-days to try to make a voice call to us."

The good news for dispatchers is the 911 Center runs on its own internal network, meaning even if the Internet is down for the public, work will not be disturbed at the call center.

Plans are still in the works to implement a "Text to 911" system that would allow you to send a text message for help.

"Our equipment is ready for it, we're waiting for the state of Tennessee's provider to make that available," Carney said.

It's still not clear when that "Text to 911" program will reach Hamilton County.
    
The Tennessee Emergency Communications Board wants to make sure all counties are prepared before making the texting option available. A spokesperson says the earliest could be sometime next year.
    
But even with that service, Carney says it wouldn't have helped in Tuesday's outage because many could not even text. 
 

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