Washington attorney general wants to fine CenturyLink $11.5 million for last year's 911 outage

Washington state's attorney general says he wants a telecommunications company to pay the maximum fine, $11.5 million, for an outage that left the state without 911 service for six hours.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson says Louisiana-based CenturyLink was slow to recognize the problem, which came to light after 911 operators became concerned about an unusually low number of calls.

More than 5,600 emergency calls failed during the April 2014 outage, including calls about domestic violence and heart attacks.

A mother in Everett armed herself with a kitchen knife after making 37 unsuccessful 911 calls to report an intruder.

"It was absolutely terrifying to know someone was getting into my house and there was no one coming,” Alicia Cappola said after the home invasion. “No help on the way.”

Someone was trying to break in to her house, at the same time her 911 service wasn’t working, no matter how many times she tried to call.

“There was a loud pounding on my front door,” Cappola said. "He tried to get in the front door for about ten minutes and eventually ripped the screen off the window, opened it up and climbed in.

She found herself face to face with a strange man standing in her living room.

Alicia had already called 911 once and got a busy signal. She would eventually call 911 more than three dozen times.

She is just one of an unknown number of people in our state and Oregon, who tried and failed to reach 911.

A coding error caused the outage. The software's backup measure to reroute calls also failed.

Last year, the News Tribue reported CenturyLink filed a report with the state, saying the Colorado complex that routed 911 calls had reached its threshold, so the calls got stuck.

CenturyLink uses a third-party vendor to route 911 calls.

According to the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission, CenturyLink provides Washington’s 911 services under a contract managed by the Washington Military Department’s Emergency Management Division. The company outsources certain certain functions of the 911 network to Colorado-based Intrado Inc.

In September, the company signed an agreement admitting to violations, for failing to automatically re-route 911 calls and failing to maintain and manage the 911 system, which is required by law. The UTC also cited the company for failing to promptly notify 911 call centers and the state of Washington of the outage.

The vendor has reportedly made some changes so it doesn't happen again.

Under the proposed agreement, CenturyLink would have paid nearly $2.9 million.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson says the proposal is too lenient and is asking the state Utilities and Transportation Commission to reject the deal at a hearing next week.

A CenturyLink spokesman called Ferguson's recommendation overly punitive.