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Volume of 911 calls that led to outage similar to 'a mass casualty incident'

Center overwhelmed with calls after midnight on New Year's
911 dispatchers
Posted at 6:04 PM, Jan 02, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-03 11:21:24-05

INDIANAPOLIS — The director of the Marion County 911 center on Sunday called the outage that occurred after midnight on New Year's Day the biggest interruption the center has experienced since at least 2014.

Marion County Sheriff's Office Major Michael R. Hubbs said 911 dispatchers received around 310 calls that flooded the system within 90 seconds and didn't let up.

"What we saw as a society is what you typically see in a mass casualty incident," said Hubbs, who serves as the director of the Marion County 911 Center for the Metropolitan Emergency Services Agency.

Hubbs said there were more calls for help shortly after the clock hit midnight than dispatchers could handle and there was a failure in the AT&T system.

"As of now, they believe there were 1,130 incoming 911 calls within a two-hour period from midnight-2 a.m.," Hubbs said.

Hubbs said most of the calls were reports of shots fired despite warnings from the sheriff's office and IMPD against firing weapons.

"New Year's Eve, we dispatched 427 incidents of people firing guns into the air and that's probably not even a quarter of the percent of calls we were able to get," Hubbs said.

Hubbs added that dispatchers could hear gunfire in the background of many calls.

"Some of it was automatic gunfire," he said. "It was something you would not expect for Indianapolis. It was something you would watch in a movie. It's bad. Our dispatchers have to answer those calls. I answered some of these citizens calling in scared for their lives because they are in their homes. Bullets were going through homes. IMPD and other agencies responding to locations where homes were riddled with bullets."

Callers who couldn't get through to a Marion County dispatchers were placed in a queue to receive service from surrounding agencies, but Hubbs said not every call could be taken.

"With the statistics of calls, all of those 911 centers combined can't handle those calls," he said. "No one can."

The Text-to-911 system and their ability to dispatch first responders weren't impacted, but Hubbs said it was frustrating that a technology failure wouldn't allow their roughly 40 dispatchers to answer calls for help.

"We are holding everybody involved accountable," Hubbs said. "There needs to be an explanation as to why our dispatchers couldn't answer those calls. Now, don't get me wrong, there were more calls than we would have been able to answer, but at some point, we couldn't even hardly answer any."

Hubbs said the system was fully operational by 1:30 a.m. The investigation into the system failure is ongoing and more information will be available Monday.

Hubbs said the Marion County 911 system receives more than a million 911 calls a year and is usually one of the top 10 call centers in the country. He said outages like the one they experienced on New Year's was rare.