FOX 17 Investigates: 911 Outages


Your first thought in an emergency: call 911.

A Fox 17 investigation shows cell phone companies have left hundreds of thousands of us across the country with no help in an emergency, and it keeps happening.

On March 8, 2017, two Nashville callers dialed 911 over and over with no success.

On Michael Dow’s eighth call for help, he dialed the Metro Police non-emergency number and got through.

The problem: Dow's cell phone carrier.

That night, AT&T had a cellular outage that included Tennessee.

Several states' law enforcement agencies reported on social media that callers couldn't reach 911.

AT&T declined an interview. In a statement to Fox 17, it says the March 8 outage happened due to a change between their network and a 911 vendor.

The FCC reports in a March 23rd Washington D.C. hearing that almost 13,000 people called 911 for help that night and couldn't get through.

The FCC revealing with the call volume so high, most calls to 911 got dropped.

But this outage doesn't stand alone.

White House, Tennessee, Fire Fighter Casey Tate Barnes says 911 outages have been happening for years and with multiple cell phone carriers.

"We'll hear about it days after," Barnes said. "Somebody's hurt, somebody's been hurt, somebody's in the hospital, somebody may not survive...because of the fact that they cannot get through."

Fox 17 found six FCC settlements for major 911 outages across the country since 2015.

Verizon, CenturyLink, Intrado, T-mobile, InnoCaption for the deaf and hard of hearing as well as Sprint, Hamilton Relay and General Communication have all been fined a total of more than $42-million dollars since 2015.

In the majority of these settlements, the companies have been found lacking proper safeguards against these outages.

The lobbying group that represents cell service carriers wouldn't answer any questions on camera, instead giving this statement to Fox 17 saying:

“Wireless carriers are continuously innovating to help first responders and the public better prepare for and respond to emergencies."

Rubbing salt in the wound, each cell phone user in Tennessee is paying a 911 surcharge fee on our monthly phone bills.

$1.16 a month for Tennessee cell phone users adds up to more than $85-million dollars going to state coffers each year to help fund our emergency services.

Brian Fontes, CEO of the National Emergency Number Association says it's necessary.

“Without that fee, there would probably be no 911 service"

Michael Dow is glad to report his wife survived this night’s emergency with quick help once he called a different number.

“We were fortunate," Dow said. "But if it happened to us, it could happen to other people as well. So there may be some who were not quite as fortunate."

While cell phone companies work on their 911 software, callers need to know a different number to dial in an emergency.

"You have to know we will be there," Barnes said.

Click here for a list of middle Tennessee non-emergency numbers.

close video ad
Unmutetoggle ad audio on off