The 911 dispatch center in Portland was unable to receive emergency calls for about 15 minutes Monday night, and it’s not yet clear whether the problem extended to dozens of other communities linked to the network.

For about 15 minutes between 9:34 p.m. and 9:49 p.m., dispatchers could not answer incoming calls from Portland, South Portland and Cape Elizabeth, said Maria Jacques, director of the Emergency Services Communication Bureau.

The problem was associated with a data center in Portland, which serves a dozen of the state’s emergency dispatch centers spanning scores of communities across five counties. So far, it’s unclear how many calls were left unanswered and how the problem began, or what exactly went wrong.

The data center in Portland serves countywide dispatch centers in Cumberland, Knox, Lincoln, Waldo and Sagadahoc counties, in addition to police departments in Biddeford, Brunswick, Portland, Sanford and York.

The extent of the outage is not yet known, and staff have begun combing through data to understand what went wrong.

“The problems started right after the electrical issues in downtown Portland,” Jacques said. “We are not tying those two events. (The outage) happened shortly after that, and a lot of people were calling 911 at that time. It may have been caused by the storm, it may not have been caused by the storm.”

During the outage, calls that would have gone to Portland were automatically routed to Cumberland County Regional Communications Center, Jacques said.

But the Cumberland County center also reported problems around the same time, so it’s still unknown how many emergency calls were routed to the backup system and whether any of those went unanswered or were delayed.

The dispatch system is designed to automatically forward unanswered 911 calls to a backup 911 answering center, she said.

Jacques said staff and employees from Consolidated Communications, which provides the call-routing and dispatch equipment and is responsible for its maintenance, have begun an investigation to determine what went wrong.

A spokeswoman for Consolidated said the company takes its responsibility for 911 systems seriously and is evaluating what went wrong.

“We continuously review our network design to ensure the highest level of access to 911,” wrote Shannon Sullivan, a Consolidated spokeswoman. “In collaboration with our equipment vendor, we are actively investigating the incident to identify the exact cause and work to ensure an interruption does not occur in the future.”

There are two regionalized data centers – one in Portland, one in Lewiston – that handle all 911 traffic in the state, Jacques said.

The digital dispatch system used statewide has been in place since 2014, and Jacques said it’s been years since there was an outage of any comparable size.

As part of its contract with the state, Consolidated Communications will likely be responsible for investigating and making improvements to the software and hardware that runs the system if that is required, Jacques said.


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