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Amid widespread AT&T outage, Seminole County Emergency Management says landlines save lives

SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. — For thousands of AT&T customers in Central Florida, cell phones were little better than paperweights for most of Thursday morning and into the afternoon. It was a big issue for emergency services as some tried to place calls to 911.

Seminole County Emergency Management was quick to send out an information blast to county residents letting them know about the outage and how they could get through to the county’s Emergency Communication Center.

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Alan Harris with Seminole County Emergency Management said on Thursday, some AT&T customers couldn’t call 911 on their cell phones at all, others could only get through using the SOS function on their cellphones, and others still could only contact the communications center via the 10-digit line that is typically reserved for non-emergencies.

“Today was a beautiful day that became like a hurricane. Our normal way of communication fell through,” said Harris.

According to CDC statistics only 3 out of 10 adults live in a household with a landline, but, on Thursday, they became essential for anyone needing emergency help.

“We’ve heard all morning long individuals running to a convenience store or an apartment complex office, where there was a phone plugged into a jack, where they called either 911 or the non-emergency number,” said Harris.

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According to Harris, Seminole County learned about the outage just after 5:30 in the morning.

But since Seminole County’s Emergency Communications Center works off direct fiber, its ability to take and make calls was not impacted.

Harris noted that the Emergency Communication Center also has a system of back-ups in place in case of widespread interruptions that could result from natural disaster, simple tech issues, or cyber-attack.

“We have redundancy here. We have satellite phones, we have regular direct landline phones, and we have voice over internet as well. So, we have multitudes of phones, and we can switch very quickly,” said Harris.

With widespread outages, Harris said the day served as a good reminder for people to have their own back-ups at home.

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Harris told Channel 9 that having an old school landline could save your life and added that you can get 911 only service on a landline free of charge.

“The cell phone tower down the road might fall over because it got hit by a tornado. How are you going to call 911?... If you can get a telephone line connected directly to your wall and make sure you have at least 911-service, that can save your life,” said Harris.

As of 3 p.m. on Thursday, an AT&T Spokeperson said the nationwide service disruptions had been resolved, however, they did not answer Channel 9′s questions about what cause the outage.

Governor Ron DeSantis also spoke publicly about the outage during a press conference Thursday and said he was in touch with AT&T about the issue.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Division of the Department of Homeland Security said “CISA is aware of the reports, and we are working closely with AT&T to understand the cause of the outage and it’s impacts.”

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