Hawaiian Telcom explains glitch in HPD’s 911 system

Two hundred emergency calls.

That’s how many times people tried to call 911 Thursday for help and couldn’t get through.

We later learned the system began having trouble at 2:30 p.m. even though we weren’t asked to help get the word out until nearly two and a half hours later.

So what happened and, in a life-or-death where every second counts, why wasn’t anything said sooner?

First, we called the Honolulu Police Department to find out what caused the system failure. Officials said they didn’t know and referred us to Hawaiian Telcom.

A spokeswoman for the phone company said 911 outages are common nationwide and often “beyond their control,” but they’re working to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

From 2:30-9 p.m., Hawaiian Telcom said Oahu’s 911 system was down and blamed it on a computer glitch.

“We were running a planned software upgrade. We coordinated with all the emergency call centers in the state,” said Su Shin, Hawaiian Telcom executive director of communications. “As part of that upgrade, we believed there was an issue. When we tried to fix it, only Oahu’s 911 calls were impacted. The fix we implemented may have prevented a much larger problem, however it did affect Oahu. Any outage, in our opinion, is not good.”

Hawaiian Telcom says it coordinated with the 911 call center and both agreed to cut over to a backup system while officials tried to figure out what caused the glitch.

“Has anything like this ever happen before?” KHON2 asked.

“It has and, again, we don’t like to have any outages period. But unfortunately, 911 outages do occur,” Shin said. “Last year, we cut over to a new system. We were on an old 911 system. We moved to a new enhanced system last year. It provides locations, all kinds of enhanced features the old system didn’t provide, and whenever we do a transition like that, there are issues.”

Honolulu city councilmember Ron Menor says he’s not happy about the delay from when the outage was discovered to when HPD notified the public.

“I think even a half an hour or an hour is too long. There needs to be more coordination between Hawaiian Telcom and HPD as soon as this sort of breakdown occurs,” he said. “I’ve contacted HPD and Hawaiian Telcom to ask them to report back on what caused the breakdown of the system. I think we need answers, but we cannot allow the situation to happen again.”

The city council plans to meet with both groups to get more answers on what exactly went wrong.

The Department of Emergency Management helped get the word out about the 911 problems through its Nixle alerts.

All you have to do is sign up for free and then you can get notifications about severe weather, advisories, road closures and events through text messaging and email.

You can also customize it to receive alerts only at certain times.

“It’s the redundancy of getting information,” said John Cummings III with Honolulu’s Department of Emergency Management. “We’re all plugged in to social media. We all have TVs and radios, but it doesn’t hurt to have a multiple layers and ability to get important information, especially during an emergency.”

There are just over 36,000 residents who have signed up for Nixle alerts. Click here for more information.

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