Text to 911

Gallatin County 911 announced the availability of text to 911 for residents and visitors during a press conference at Bozeman Fire Station #3 on Tuesday, June 1, 2021.

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Phone service provider issues at 911 dispatch centers in Gallatin and Park counties, along with West Yellowstone, are the main reason for people experiencing troubles calling emergency services.

Though it is not a complete outage for 911 calls, some callers may run into busy signals or not have their caller ID and location registered by emergency dispatchers. Callers experiencing issues can still text 911 in Gallatin County, Park County and West Yellowstone. Texts should include details like what is happening and the texter’s exact location.

The issues began Thursday evening.

Any 911 calls made are put through 911 trunks, which is a system that gathers information like location and caller ID for dispatchers to use. Half of the 911 trunks in Gallatin County, Park County and West Yellowstone are not working.

Tim Martindale, the director of 911 and communications in Gallatin County, said that the cause of the issues are unknown at the time. Gallatin County is receiving 911 calls, but not all lines are working.

“We’re not completely down, we’re not without 911 service at all,” Martindale said. “We have a certain amount of 911 lines coming into the building, about half of those are experiencing issues at this time.”

Callers may be getting busy signals when calling 911 because these systems are down. Martindale said calls receiving busy signals have been random.

He said dispatchers tested the lines last night and that callers could get through the busy signal after a few tries. But the best option for now is to text.

“The one thing we’ve tested throughout the night that has had 100% accuracy is to text 911,” Martindale said. “And I know that is not the most convenient solution when you’re staring in the face of an emergency, but if there are those types of 911 calls people can push to text, that’s where we’ve had the most success.”

Gallatin and Park counties, along with West Yellowstone’s dispatch, all use Lumen for 911 service. Martindale said that Lumen, part of CenturyLink, is working on finding a solution, but has no time table in place for a fix.

Peggy Glass, 911 dispatch coordinator for Park County, said that two of the county’s four 911 trunks are not working. If the two that are available are busy, 911 calls rollover to other lines. Lumen has narrowed Park County’s 911 trunk situation to an issue at the company’s office in Billings, Glass said.

Call overload has not been an issue — the only problem is when calls rollover to other lines, they do not have important location information.

Linda Johnson, a spokesperson for Lumen, said that the company is working to fix the situation.

“We have identified and corrected an issue that was preventing some 911 calls from overflowing to the West Yellowstone, Gallatin and Park County dispatch centers’ administrative lines,” Johnson said in an email. “We are currently working closely with the West Yellowstone, Gallatin and Park County 911 dispatch centers, public safety answering points and their equipment vendor on intermittent issues with automatic location information.”

West Yellowstone Chief of Police Todd Richardson said that they have two lines, and only one is working properly. West Yellowstone police changed patrol around and made room on other lines to field 911 calls, but the issues haven’t disrupted them much, Richardson said.

They also receive fewer calls than Bozeman or other larger police departments, Richardson said. But still, every call matters, he said.

“Each one of the calls means everything to us,” Richardson said. “If we have a 911 call, say a medical problem, we don’t have a hospital sitting at our back door. Everything we deal with is time critical for us.

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Alex Miller is the county and state government reporter and can be reached at amiller@dailychronicle.com or by phone at 406-582-2648.

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