Test causes 911 call center outage in Pasco Friday morning

- In Pasco County, people calling 911 early Friday morning got no answer. A mistake during a test cut power at the communication center. Calls weren't transferred and it took nearly an hour before operators could answer calls.

For a period of 48 minutes Friday morning, people in Pasco County who called 911 just heard ringing. Forty-five calls for help went unanswered.

"No emergency management director ever wants this type of situation to happen to them," said Emergency Services Director Kevin Guthrie. "When it happens, you're not going to be perfect but you can get better. You can learn from it and that's what we are going to do in this case."

Around 6 a.m., there was a mistake during a routine test of the fire suppression system in the 911 call center in New Port Richey. A worker accidentally triggered it.

"It shuts everything down which, in turn, caused a blackout of the computers, which shut down 911 system and the agent actually dispersed," said Deputy Chief Andy Fossa of Pasco County Fire Rescue. "Think about hurricane-force winds and how it tears everything up. Well, it blew out ceiling tiles in the ceiling, office doors that were open, peoples' papers were everywhere, papers fell off the walls."

911 operators got in their cars and drove to the Dade City to the new communications center. In the meantime, calls were supposed to be transferred to Polk County. That didn't happen.

"Polk County did not answer any 911 calls for Pasco County," Guthrie said. "I want to be clear about that. For about 48 minutes, Pasco County 911 calls did actually go unanswered."

Of the 45 911 calls made during that time, 23 of the numbers registered in the system and were called back by 9:15 a.m. Some the calls were regarding traffic incidents. Others were able to get help later. Still, that leaves 22 calls not accounted for.

"To these individuals, I will stand up here by myself right now and tell you I'm sorry that that happened. We hope that that never happens again," Guthrie said. "If any of those 22 people, potentially 22 people, didn't get the service they needed, please contact me at this center and I will personally talk to you and apologize in person."

Pasco County answers about 600 911 calls a day. The blackout happened during a time that is generally not that busy. Still, any one of those calls could have been a life or death situation. Guthrie promises there's work to be done, so that every time someone dials 911 in Pasco County, there's a voice on the line.

"What we are going to be looking at in the future is, when we call our vendor and say we are down," Guthrie said. "We want to set up a system that says that's an automatic, start moving that stuff to this particular center. And, that's where the breakdown was."

Power systems were restored at the main New Port Richey call center by 10:30 a.m. The system is operating normally.

Editor's note: An early version of this story stated that the 911 call center was still being completed. This version has been corrected to reflect that it is now complete.

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