911 is a literal lifeline for folks in nearly any kind of trouble imaginable. Calling 911 instantly connects you to emergency dispatch centers across more than 98% of the U.S. And 911 really gets used! An estimated 240 million calls are made to 911 in the U.S. each year. Among technology stories, it is indeed one of the great successes.
But what happens when 911 doesn't work?
Intrado Inc., a Colorado-based company, provides many states with their call routing infrastructure for emergency services. On one April day this year, computer software distributed by Intrado Inc. caused calls to emergency services in North Carolina, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, California, Florida and Washington state to be dropped.
The FCC released a report that found a shocking bug that blocked 911 access for 11 million people. The FCC says the bug was "... preventable. But it was not." Why couldn't people get in touch with emergency services as they needed them? One simple computer code mistake.
The most shocking thing that the FCC discovered about the outage? The problem was entirely fixable.
The company just didn't identify it for six hours while call after call to emergency services was dropped.