Marion County’s 911 center experienced an hourlong outage after the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Day, while hundreds of calls poured in reporting celebratory gunshots.
“I have never seen anything even close to what happened last night,” said Michael Hubbs, director of the Marion County 911 Center, which as of Saturday is housed within the new Metropolitan Emergency Services Agency.
From 12:02 to 12:03 a.m., his center received 206 calls. In the first five minutes, there were more than 500.
That’s when the dispatch system went down, and stayed down through the hour. By 1 a.m., it started to slowly come back; by 1:45 a.m., the center was fully functional.
Service provider AT&T is still investigating what caused the outage, Hubbs said, though he believes it was the enormous call volume.
During the interruption, the Text-to-911 system was still running, as well as all public safety radio communications systems among first responders. Calls that kept coming in got rerouted to dispatchers in neighboring counties. But given the limited number of dispatchers in rural areas and the overwhelming number of calls, there is no way all of them got answered, Hubbs said.
“What about the person that had chest pains? What about that asthma attack? We can’t get to those calls,” he said. “It’s very sad. It’s probability. Somebody in there probably needed help and they probably didn’t get it.”
Almost all of the calls were reporting gunfire. The calls he could answer, Hubbs heard the gunshots on the line. There were multiple calls of gunfire through people’s homes.
Between 10 a.m. and 6 a.m., the center dispatched 427 incidents of shots fired, Hubbs said.
The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department reported four people injured by gunfire during this timespan, but it’s not clear whether these incidents are related to celebratory gunfire.
Hubbs is also not aware of specific incidents where someone suffered due to non-response during the 911 outage.
Marion County last experienced a 911 outage more than a year ago, and not as significant as this, Hubbs said. On a Thursday afternoon in September 2021, an outage affected six neighboring counties, during which Marion County, unaffected by the outage, fielded some calls for them.
“It’s not extremely uncommon for brief outages to occur, but there are always one or two fail-safes,” said Capt. Mitch Gore, public information officer for the Marion County Sheriff’s Office.
Public officials know to expect a busy night on New Year’s Eve. On Friday, the sheriff’s office, which had previously administered the 911 center, reminded the public that firing guns into the air is illegal and dangerous, and said to call 911 only for emergencies.
Read: 911 hold times are getting longer in Marion County. Here’s why.
Hubbs’ center was as fully staffed as possible, though he’s down about 15 employees.
“I expected and knew we would have an onslaught of 911 calls,” he said. “The enormity of it was beyond what I’ve seen.”
Major Joe Hogsett allocated 6% of the 2022 budget to creating the Metropolitan Emergency Services Agency, which consolidates all dispatch and telecommunication efforts across multiple agencies into one entity. This includes dispatchers from the sheriff’s office, fire department and IMPD’s Division of Homeland Security.
MESA officially went live New Year’s Day, though the transition had been gradual since the fall. The change was mainly a reorganization of people and a new title; systems and technology stayed the same.
Another thing that’s the same: the 911 Center needs more staff and better pay and benefits, Hubbs said.
“They’re woefully underpaid and woefully overworked,” he said.
He also hopes to strike another conversation in the city about responsible gun ownership.
“It was just unbelievable,” he said.