Local News

What Happens If 911 Centers Have An Emergency?

Posted May 31, 2002

— Most area 911 centers have some sort of contingency plan in place to make sure they can take your calls. Back-up equipment varies and some rely on other centers for help, but whether it is terrorism, hurricanes or human error, the need for backup 911 systems is very real.

When a severed gas line forced the evacuation of the Johnston County Courthouse this month, the 911 telecommunicators had to go too.

Instead of emergency calls going unanswered, Johnston County had a backup plan. The building placed in the back of the the livestock arena serves as a mini 911 center.

Within 20 minutes of the evacuation, workers were manning the computers, phones and radios without ever interrupting service. The $35,000 backup center was finished one week before the gas leak.

"They're really not concerned whether it's coming from the courthouse or here just as long as help is on the way and that's what we're trying to guarantee," said Jason Barbour who works in the Johnston County 911 center.

In January, a water main break wiped out phone lines for Durham's 911 center. They immediately moved to their backup system.

If a similar emergency forced Raleigh telecommunicators out of their downtown 911 center, they would move to a more basic backup.

"You may go to just a regular phone set like you have at home. You're at least able to answer 911 lines," said Philip Penny who works in the Raleigh/Wake County 911 center.

Penny said he is now considering a more high-tech alternative that could rival existing service for long-term worst-case scenarios.

"Those kind of things that we never thought about until Sept. 11 is now very much on the forefront and very much on everyone's mind," Penny said.

"I think it's a very good insurance policy that hopefully, we don't have to cash in on that much," Barbour said.

Cumberland County and Fayetteville rely on each other for 911 backup. Plus, they have equipment at Pope Air Force Base as a precaution. However because of increased worries about terrorism, they are working on ways to upgrade their backup service plans.


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