Authorities in South Dakota, Texas, Nebraska and Nevada reported service interruptions to 911 call centers Wednesday evening, according to CNN. As the first former 911 dispatcher elected to Congress, alarm bells rang for Rep. Norma Torres, D-Calif.

It’s vastly important, she said, that people learn about their 911 systems, their cellphones — and even their landlines — and how they can still reach help and plan for an emergency.

What You Need To Know

  • A 911 outage occurred Wednesday night in at least four states, including Texas, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Nevada

  • The outage in Del Rio, Texas, was blamed on a cellular carrier outage, but the outages in South Dakota, Nebraska, and Nevada were related to an accidentally clipped fiber line during a light pole instillation in Kansas City, Mo.

  • Rep. Norma Torres, the first 911 dispatcher elected to Congress, shared some tips with Spectrum News about how to be prepared should you face a 911 outage

“In some cases, people can call directly into their fire station, their police station,” Torres explained. “I always tell my friends — and I try to do this myself — [that] wherever I travel, the most frequent places that I travel, I like to store the local police department's number on my phone, so it's an auto-dial for me. And if I can at least get to the police station, they can always reroute you where you need to go.”

Outages were announced in multiple cities across multiple states Wednesday night. The outages in Nebraska, Nevada, and South Dakota were the result of a fiber line being accidentally cut in Missouri while a light pole was being installed. The Associated Press reports that most service was restored in under three hours.

The outage in Texas was related to a cellular carrier outage according to The Associated Press. 

While these outages were caused by human error, Torres says that growing cyber threats mean that more needs to be done to protect emergency communications infrastructure.

“The 911 system is very fragile and it’s always a target of cyber attacks. We need to understand that,” said Torres. “As members of Congress, we need to work together with our local communities to ensure that they are applying for funding that is available, grants that are readily available for them so that they can improve those systems. And when they are purchasing software, they have to make sure that the vendor that they are utilizing is someone who understands and has the capabilities to help support those systems during a cyber attack.”

If you do find yourself needing to call 911, Torres says it’s important to remember a few key details.

“Oftentimes when we do get our [emergency] call answered, we're in such a panic that it's difficult to get information out,” said Torres. “That information that is being asked of you is critical to the response that you're going to get — if you are injured, you're having a heart attack — your age is very important, what were you doing before or after. If you are a victim of a crime, who did this to you, what do they look like? Which way did they go?”

The bottom line is to make it clear, make it calm and make it quick. “Every second matters in an emergency, so it’s important for you to cooperate,” Torres said.