Contracted Firm Blames Missouri Light Pole Installation For $36 Million SD 911 Service Disruption

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A disruption in 911 services spanning South Dakota and beyond on Wednesday night was attributed to a Kansas City, Missouri-based company installing a light pole, according to Lumen, South Dakota’s 911 telecommunications provider.

Lumen, previously known as CenturyLink and headquartered in Louisiana, acknowledged the outage’s cause as originating from a third party but refrained from elaborating on the specifics of how the light pole installation led to the disruption.

The outage impacted 911 services not only in South Dakota but also in Nebraska and Nevada. While another outage was reported in Texas, Lumen clarified that it does not administer 911 services there.

This incident marks at least the second occurrence of a 911 service disruption via Lumen in South Dakota this year. South Dakota initially engaged Lumen for “Next Generation 911 services” in 2019, extending the contract until 2029 with a value of up to $36.33 million.

In January, southeastern South Dakota faced service interruptions due to an outage, rendering customers in several counties unable to access 911 via landlines for several hours. Notably, last year, Lumen encountered challenges when two separate fiber optic lines were inadvertently severed in Minneapolis and Omaha, resulting in a 10-hour blockade on incoming calls to over half of Nebraska’s 911 centers.

Following a multi-state outage in 2020, which affected several states including South Dakota, North Dakota, and Minnesota, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) initiated an investigation into Lumen’s handling of 911 calls. In a subsequent settlement, Lumen agreed to implement a compliance plan and pay a $3.8 million civil penalty.

On Wednesday night, the FCC announced via X (formerly Twitter) its investigation into the recent outages, with FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel underscoring the critical nature of seamless 911 connectivity during emergencies.

Despite the outage, officials assured that response times were unaffected, albeit requiring rapid adjustments in handling incoming calls. In Sioux Falls, Assistant Fire Chief Mike Gramlick noted the unprecedented scale and duration of the outage, prompting swift dissemination of alerts and rerouting calls.

In Pennington County, dispatchers leveraged caller ID data to promptly reconnect with individuals and dispatch emergency services. While questions regarding the operation of the 911 text messaging service and Lumen’s role in 911 security remain unanswered, Chad Landis of Pennington County emphasized the urgency for clarity and resolution amidst the outage’s aftermath.

“We all know that if and when there’s an emergency, 911 is supposed to be there. It failed,” Landis said. “So I think the question is why did this happen, how did it happen and what can be done to prevent it from happening again. Those are serious questions that need to be looked at a larger level than just South Dakota.”