Butterfingers contractor shuts down 911 services in Washington, DC

© Yuri Gripas
The US capital went without reliable access to emergency first responders for two hours, leaving many fearing a nefarious hack from abroad. It was a false alarm though – it turned out that a contractor had simply pushed the wrong button.

Anyone who tried to call 911 in Washington, DC on Saturday night was out of luck. Between the hours of 11:00pm on August 27 and 1:00am Sunday, all calls had to go through a 10-digit backup number, while employees at the call center scrambled to find the cause of the problem.

As it turned out, it was a plumbing contractor who made a mistake while trying to fix a leak that posed a risk to other important equipment, WRC reported.

Original suspicions about it being the result of a cyberattack against DC’s infrastructure were quickly dashed when Chris Geldart, director of the District of Columbia’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency, held a press conference, where he explained that the outage had been the result of equipment failure.

We know exactly what in the system failed,” Geldart said. “We want to know why it failed.

While there are no statistics available about the number of calls not received by 911, fire and EMS departments claimed to have received 30 EMS calls and five fire calls on the backup number, and the police department only received five.

Officials told WRC that they are looking to add more safeguards to the button and improve the signage around it.