published Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

Prepaid cellphone was only link to Sequatchie 911

Sequatchie County E-911 Director Mike Twitty
Sequatchie County E-911 Director Mike Twitty
Photo by Ben Benton /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

When 4,800 landline phones in and around Dunlap, Tenn., stopped working for five hours early Tuesday morning because of an equipment failure, Sequatchie County's 911 system shut down, too.

So a state emergency management official went to Walmart, bought a prepaid cell phone, and 911 officials urged anyone having an emergency to call that cellphone's number, which they shared via TV and radio news and Facebook.

"When you get into a crisis, you do what needs to be done," Mike Twitty, director of the Sequatchie County Emergency Communications District, said around noon Tuesday -- nine hours into his work day.

"I'm a little tired," he said.

Twitty got a 3 a.m. CDT wake-up call about the phone shutdown, which affected all of the Bledsoe Telephone Cooperative's customers whose seven-digit phone numbers start with 949.

Greg Anderson, general manager of the phone cooperative that also serves Bledsoe and Van Buren counties, said the equipment failure disconnected Internet and data connections and some cellphones along with landlines.

"It's a piece of equipment that basically everything ... runs through it," Anderson said.

Most of the phone cooperative's equipment failures go unnoticed by the public, Anderson said, because backup systems kick in.

"We have two of everything," he said.

But the piece of equipment that failed can't be configured that way, Anderson said.

"This is one of those weak links," he said. "It's very rare that anything like this happens."

The bulk of phone service was restored by 8 a.m. CDT, and all isolated outages had been fixed by 1 p.m. CDT, Anderson said.

Apparently, the outage of phone lines and 911 service didn't affect anyone in distress.

"Not to our knowledge," Twitty said. "We have received no information thus far of any people trying to get to us."

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at tomarzu@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6651.

about Tim Omarzu...

Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.

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