Colbert County EMA: ‘A perfect storm’ for 911 failure

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COLBERT COUNTY, Ala. (WHNT) - A critical 911 system failure has Colbert County Emergency Management officials rethinking their backup plan.

The system went down Monday night during a round of severe weather. Colbert County EMA Director Mike Melton said is was a perfect mix for disaster.

The call center has AC power, a generator backup, and battery backups. It's all a precaution, to ensure they can continue to answer calls and send crews out to help during disasters. They all failed after one of two rounds of severe weather.

"It was just like the perfect storm," said Melton. "You've always heard the cliche that the storm has to start somewhere. Well, I've been out with the National Weather Service today and we're pretty well convinced that the storm started right here."

A National Weather Service survey shows an EF-1 tornado originated right there in Downtown Tuscumbia, where the 911 call center is. Winds up to 105 mph hit the city, and went through Muscle Shoals.

"That's no excuse, but one thing cascaded into another failure to another failure," Melton said. "We could never have seen it coming."

Although complete 911 failures rarely happen, the communities in the Shoals have backup plans to help each other out in times of extreme emergencies. Monday night, it took about 20 minutes to transfer 911 calls over to the Lauderdale County EMA.

"That part went pretty smoothly. Lauderdale County's dispatch center is roughly 5 miles away from us. The radios work,  everything works. We are their backup."

Melton said there has been a time in the past when Franklin County's systems failed, and Colbert County took those 911 calls. It's all part of their backup plan, but Melton said they will still make some changes to theirs.

"We"re going to make some additional adjustments to our plan to try to lessen the impact if something like this every happens again."