Old Tech Left 911 Calls Unanswered in Louisiana After Ida

In the years since Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans, the 911 system has undergone a major overhaul. The aging telephone system was replaced. Separate centers for medical, police and fire calls were consolidated under one roof. And new call-routing technology to prevent communications from going down during a disaster was scheduled to be installed early next year.

Then Hurricane Ida hit, and the 911 call center crashed, failing its first major test, according to The Washington Post. Calls for help didn’t go through. The center was offline for 13 hours last Monday. The Orleans Parish Communication District, which runs the dispatch center, had to use Facebook to tell people that if they had an emergency, they should walk to a nearby fire station or flag down a police officer to report it.

“Our technology is antiquated,” Tyrell Morris, the district’s executive director, told The Washington Post.  

The dispatch center’s new way of receiving 911 calls wasn’t ready. The district had signed a contract with AT&T for its ESInet online call-routing system last fall. But work on putting it in place is still months away, according to The Washington Post.

Morris said AT&T is the provider for all 911 centers in Louisiana. Orleans Parish, home to New Orleans, will be among the first in the state to use the new call-routing technology. As to why it hadn’t been installed years ago, Morris said part of the reason was, “It’s expensive.”

An AT&T spokesman did not respond to questions about its contract with the 911 center.

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