If you’re experiencing an emergency, you call 911.
That’s the automatic reaction, the number that’s been burned into our brains since childhood. But late last month, on a Sunday, the 911 system in a large section of Kansas went out for some three hours. Officials scrambled to publicize alternate numbers and coordinate their response.
While the state has been working for some time to update its emergency response system. That’s a worthwhile goal, and we hope they’re making progress.
At the same time, the Kansas City Star reports, this is "at least the third major failure of Kansas’s 911 system in four years and comes after a 2018 audit warned that the system’s design hadn’t eliminated the risk of outages affecting multiple emergency departments."
That’s simply unacceptable.
Folks may differ on the role of government in our lives. Those with clashing ideologies can spend hour upon hour debating what’s intrusive versus what’s needed. All parties, though, surely agree that a robust emergency response system is a baseline requirement for our society. When you call 911, someone should answer the phone. And when you describe your emergency, someone should be sent to respond quickly.
According to the Star’s reporting, officials were still working out what exactly went wrong. It might have originated from a vendor. But the 2018 audit "found that 62% of emergency dispatch centers reported experiencing system down time. The audit also detailed two major outages that disrupted 911 service in dozens of counties."
In other words, this happens more often and in more places than we might expect. The widespread nature of the recent outage simply highlighted it.
So where do we go from here?
Clearly the state needs to keep working on modernizing its 911 platform. The benefits of being able to text in an emergency and switch calls between centers is important. But we can’t risk the lives and health of Kansans because of rickety infrastructure or over-reliance on a single company or vendor.
Redundancy should be built into the system at all levels, and Kansans have a right to expect that their emergency calls go through. This shouldn’t be a controversial opinion, but a widely held one.
The state should make sure the system has needed resources going forward and fixes any future problems.