Since Saturday, some Verizon Wireless customers in Yellowstone County have been unable to connect with 911.
The partial service disruption, now in its fourth day, has forced some callers to find a workaround, said Anne Kindness, manager of the city-county dispatch center.
They “basically get a message that ‘your call cannot be completed as dialed,’” Kindness said.
So far, those callers have been able to reach help through the non-emergency number instead. But it hasn’t come without a cost.
In one case, a driver on the West End Tuesday morning was driving around a city streets crew doing road work when they lost control of their vehicle, went airborne and came to rest 100 feet into a field adjacent to the street.
“So we’ve got street and traffic workers out there who are trying to report this who can’t get through because they’re on Verizon,” Kindness said.
The incident took place on Grand Avenue, just east of Rehberg Lane, around 11:30 a.m. Information on any injuries was not immediately available.
Kindness said that other Verizon calls that have failed to connect include disturbance calls and requests for medical assistance.
She said some, but not all, calls from Verizon customers were failing to connect.
“But in my estimation, if one call doesn’t get through, it’s a big deal,” Kindness said.
A spokesman for Verizon issued a statement saying the problem was limited to dispatchers being unable in some cases to collect phone number and location information from calls.
“Please note calls continue to go through, however callers may need to provide dispatchers with their phone number and location,” said spokesman Steve Van Dinter.
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Kindness said that was wrong, and that her dispatchers had been on the phone overnight with Verizon telling the company that some calls were continuing to fail. One dispatcher was making test calls from her own phone, which uses Verizon.
“I can provide no explanation for the position that Verizon’s taking on this,” Kindness said.
Anyone unable to reach 911 should instead call the non-emergency line at 657-8200. Staff will then connect the caller with a 911 dispatcher, Kindness said.
Kindness said it’s not unusual to see limited service disruptions that affect 911 connectivity, but that this one is lengthier than most.
“All the wireless providers will have hiccups from time to time, you know,” she said. “That’s just the nature of technology.”
Kindness said she learned of the disruption by a Verizon notification, and that it began at 2 a.m. Saturday.
A spokesman for Verizon said the disruption was due to a third party vendor the company uses to carry calls in the Billings area.
The company was working to address the problem but had no estimate for when it would be fixed.
"Verizon engineers are working with our vendor partners to resolve the issue as quickly as possible," Van Dinter, the spokesman, said.
Tuesday afternoon Gallatin County issued a press release stating they had same issue with Verizon calls to the Gallatin County 911 center. 911 calls were being rerouted to their non-emergency lines, due to an issue with a telecommunications company between Verizon, CenturyLink and Zayo, it said.
The press release advised people to call their non-emergency and provide location and phone number since the non-emergency number doesn’t have location data, according to the press release.