WATSEKA, Ill., (WCIA) — For nine hours Monday night and into Tuesday in Iroquois County, it felt like you took a step back in time after a car crash knocked out cell service. 

It meant you couldn’t call 911 if there was an emergency, and Watseka’s Fire Department said people had to physically find a police officer or walk to their fire station if something was wrong. 

“We’ll all have our radios and we’ll be able to still communicate via our mobile radios and portable radios that we carry,” he said. 

Eric Raymond, Iroquois County’s 911 dispatch director, said phone lines started to work as normal again around 1 a.m. on Tuesday. 

The Watseka Fire Department said a car hit fiber optic cables on Route 1 near Papineau, causing the problem. 

Nick Peters, Deputy Chief of the Watseka Fire Department, said things were quiet in Watseka during the outage, but it did expose a problem they don’t want to face again. 

“It went as far as our most northern town, Papineau, it went down at least toward Cissna Park, and as far westwards as Onarga and Gilman,” Raymond said. 

When lines were down, many people with cell phones and some landlines were in a dead zone, the biggest issue was dialing 911. 

“Word of mouth, that’s the only way that we could get anybody to answer calls,” Peters said. 

Raymond said when calling, you’d hear a busy tone, or a message from the carrier explaining that you can’t complete the phone call to the number you were dialing. 

Peters said AT&T and Verizon customers were most affected. But, Raymond added that even with zero service, some could call using Wi-Fi, or that some cell phone companies will let you use other providers. 

He said there was also a backup plan in place with Kankakee County. 

“They will then begin receiving our 911 calls,” Raymond said. “They will field the information or pass it back to us because we will use alternative means to make sure that the 911 call is still sourced and get you the help you need.” 

He added that his dispatch center in Watseka receives about 1,000 emergency calls a month, and 4,000-4,500 non-emergency calls. 

During the blackout, he said they were unable to track how many people tried calling. In Watseka, Peters said things were safe. 

“Luckily nothing happened, all the trick or treating went fine and no one had any situation that would require our services,” Peters said. 

If it happens again, Raymond said to keep calling 911. First responders are looking at other backup plans, and dispatchers said they’re looking into new technology that could include a texting feature.