911 outage affects Horry and other counties

In Horry and seven other counties, 911 service was down for nearly 3 hours Friday. The service was restored around 9 a.m.

Horry County has a backup 911 system and a backup to the backup, but because of the nature of the outage, those backups didn't help.

That left 911 officials scrambling to come up with other ways to take emergency calls.

Officials say the county's 911 operators noticed shortly after 6 a.m. that they weren't getting any incoming calls.

They called their phone service provider, Frontier Communications, and found out it was a much wider problem.

"We were doing some maintenance work in the network and we discovered that a network device was inadvertently turned off which should not have been and that caused an outage," said Frontier's area general manager, Tim Ruedy.

More than 44,000 Frontier customers were affected.

Ruedy says it hasn't been determined if it was a human error or an equipment problem.

Horry County has a backup 911 system at the M.L. Brown Public Safety Building, but because the outage was with the phone network, not the county, incoming calls wouldn't have made it into the back-up system, either.

The county could have routed emergency calls to Florence County's 911 as a backup, but Horry County officials decided against that, too.

"We felt like it would be more confusing and we would have had to send people to Florence to help them, because they would have their normal calls to take, as well as our calls to take," said Horry Co. 911 director Toni Bessent.

So Bessent says officials quickly established a couple of alternative phone numbers, had the county's IT staff route some incoming phone lines to those numbers and asked the news media to spread the word.

That took care of incoming emergency calls until the phone network was restored.

Now comes the effort to figure out if they could have handled the situation differently.

"Any event that effects our normal daily operations, we always look at it, look at what we did, can we do something better, can we put better plans in place," Bessent said.

Bessent pointed out that the county's computer aided dispatch system worked fine.

Frontier officials say they're looking more deeply into the cause to prevent it from happening again.