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Published: Tuesday, 4/5/2005

911 outage prompts flap over service in Ottawa County

BY STEVE MURPHY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

ROCKY RIDGE, Ohio - The 911 system that serves the western half of Ottawa County was knocked out of service for nearly six hours yesterday when a phone cable was cut.

Afterward, law enforcement and utility officials disagreed on whether a backup system worked properly during the outage.

Sheriff Bob Bratton said the backup system, which is supposed to route 911 calls from western Ottawa County to the Genoa police department, did not begin working for more than two hours after the outage, which began just before 11 a.m. He said emergency personnel got only busy signals while testing the system until 1:15 p.m., and he expressed frustration with the apparent failure.

"We need to have a heart-to-heart talk about it, because if someone should be injured or killed, there's a lot of liability

out there, and these companies know this," he said. "To me, a lot of this was uncalled for. We never received a call from Verizon that a line was cut."

Instead, the sheriff said, one of his department's maintenance workers informed him about the location of the damaged line - along State Rt. 163 in Benton Township - after speaking with a Verizon worker in Port Clinton who had heard some radio traffic about the incident.

But Bill Kula, a Dallas-based spokesman for Verizon, said the phone company notified the sheriff's 911 dispatch center at 11:15 a.m. that the backup system was up and running.

"It performed as it was supposed to, it performed as designed," Mr. Kula said.

He said the busy signals experienced by emergency personnel could have resulted because the backup 911 system funnels calls into a single phone line.

"You have a potential for an overflow of calls into a 10-digit number that's serving as the 911 backup," Mr. Kula said.

Sheriff Bratton rejected the Verizon spokesman's explanation, saying that fire and police agencies couldn't reach the Genoa police through 911 and that Genoa received no 911 calls between 11 a.m. and 1:15 p.m.

"That is totally incorrect," he said. "That phone system was down. Our backup was down."

The fiber optic cable was damaged just before 11 a.m. by a Toledo Edison crew that was replacing a utility pole, said Jennifer Shriver, area manager for the electric company. Ms. Shriver said the workers were putting in a new pole to replace one damaged by strong winds last week.

"There were markings on the ground, and they did stay away from the markings, but they did end up contacting the line," Ms. Shriver said.

The damage to the Verizon phone cable shut down the 911 system that routes emergency calls from the western half of Ottawa County to the sheriff's office and halted long-distance calls in and out of the Oak Harbor area. During the outage, Mr. Kula said, Oak Harbor customers could make or receive calls only from their local calling area.

As of yesterday evening, Sheriff Bratton said he did not believe the county's police and fire agencies missed any emergencies because of the outage.

Contact Steve Murphy at:

smurphy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6078.



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