911 outage raises question of earthquake safety

The 911 center had no power for about 40 minutes

A 911 operator in Oregon (Courtesy: State of Oregon)
A 911 operator in Oregon (Courtesy: State of Oregon)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) —Some people may have felt helpless on April 5 when radio and phone systems in the Portland Bureau of Emergency Communications center went down.

The power went out and the backup generator system didn’t work and as many as 80 calls to 911 did not go through. Engineers determined a part that connects the generator to the main building was burned and blackened as if there was a power surge.

It took about 40 minutes to create a work-around to get the generator connected to the main building. The issue raised questions of what would happen in the event of a disaster like an earthquake.

“We are going to hopefully stay here,” BOEC spokeswoman Laura Wolfe said. “The building is being retrofitted and hopefully will sustain a large earthquake that we would not have to leave here, again.”

BOEC does maintain a satellite backup call center in a trailer about half a mile from the main building. During the power outage, some staff did reach the backup trailer and were firing up the equipment to start taking calls when the system started working again.

“I would imagine, the roads are interrupted, power lines down, trees down, we think about it, talk about it and plan for it, but we don’t know what it’s really going to look like,” Wolfe said about a possible natural disaster.

Wolfe said city commissioner Amanda Fritz, who is in charge of BOEC, is working with them on how to mitigate an issue like this in the future.