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Nashville Christmas bombing, 2 years later: How an emergency phone outage amid disaster spurred change

Anthony Quinn Warner blared an audio recorded warning from his RV parked in downtown Nashville before disaster struck.

Two years after a man detonated a bomb from his RV parked in downtown Nashville on Christmas morning – and, in turn, caused millions to lose some phone service for several hours – the city is making proactive changes to ensure they are protected from certain kinds of outages going forward.

"It was our loss of phone system that has really shined a light on what are all of our critical piece of infrastructure – and we would call that phone, radio, Internet and network," explained Stephen Martini, director of Metro Nashville Department of Emergency Communications. "What are our critical pieces and how do we build in redundancy to make sure that if something happens, we're not affected by it?"

Anthony Quinn Warner, 63, parked his RV along Second Avenue North in downtown Nashville, about one block from the city’s famed AT&T Building, early Christmas morning in 2020. The RV’s PA system blasted an audio recording that warned of an impending explosion before switching to the song, "Downtown," a 1964 hit by Petula Clark. 


Police had been responding to a call for shots fired in the area when they noticed the suspicious RV as it blared the warning. Officers had begun trying to evacuate local residents when the explosive detonated at about 6:30 a.m. 


Multiple people were injured, but only Warner was killed in the blast, which caused extensive damage to a popular part of a city already encumbered by the strains of the COVID pandemic. The FBI later determined that Warner acted alone and built the improvised explosive device himself. 

Investigators called the explosion "an intentional act in an effort to end his own life, driven in part by a totality of life stressors – including paranoia, long-held individualized beliefs adopted from several eccentric conspiracy theories, and the loss of stabilizing anchors and deteriorating interpersonal relationships." Officials determined the detonation was not an act of terrorism.



Beginning from midday on Christmas, just hours after the attack, and continuing for three days, residents in the famed Music City lost their ability to make calls to numbers other than 911 – including the 10-digit numbers for the police departments, the fire departments, fire alarm systems and even "Life Alert" response services, Martini said.

"You’re talking millions of people involved, for sure," Martini told Fox News Digital. 

But the effects of Warner’s attack also reached beyond the city of Nashville, and extended to 66 counties in Tennessee, "every county in Kentucky" and parts of Georgia and Alabama, Martini said. Residents in several of the regions were unable to get through to their emergency systems by calling 911. 

While only non-emergency lines were impacted in the metro Nashville area, Martini said the outage spurred his agency to take measures to ensure they were covered in the event of more serious outages in the future. 

"We know we needed more than one way to receive a phone call," Martini said. "We know we need more than one way to be able to dispatch or use our radio system. We have that."

But what the Metro Nashville Department of Emergency Communications did not have was an alternative to its computer-aided dispatch system, or CAD.

CAD systems provide dispatchers with the ability to organize and prioritize emergency and 911 calls and deploy first responders, whether police, fire or medical services, among others, as needed.

"We looked at our CAD system and said, you know, we really only have one way to use our computer-aided dispatch system. If we wound up in trouble, we’d be on paper and pen," Martini went on. "It doesn’t happen often, but in our world, predictable is preventable."

The agency turned to Mark43, a public safety software company that offers cloud-based CAD and record-keeping capabilities. Mark43, which allows its clients to personalize the kinds of CAD capabilities, makes such technology more accessible for dispatchers who might be working with limited resources, or who need to use the software during extenuating circumstances.

Metro Nashville will be using Mark43’s CAD software and is in the process of building and testing the system to meet the agency’s needs. According to Martini, Metro Nashville Department of Emergency Communications expects to have Mark43 as a "reliable option" by New Year’s Eve. 

Matthew Polega and his co-founders spawned the idea for the software during their undergraduate years at Harvard University, during their work with Massachusetts State Police. They jump started the company with its records management application, which they introduced through Washington, D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department. 

"The big thing that we've seen in the last 10 years is that agencies have really adopted, or are starting to adopt a cloud-native approach when it comes to trying to set up their technology portfolio. So, about 10 years ago, many, many agencies had all of their applications powered by servers in their basements that were plugged into the same outlet as the air conditioner," Polega said. "When the power went out, not only did the AC run out, but these applications that are trying to power these 24-7, mission-critical operations went out as well."

They have since expanded to include CAD systems and now boast a clientele of over 200 agencies. 

Ten years since it was founded in Massachusetts, agencies of varying sizes, including Seattle, Boston and Atlanta police departments, Louisiana State Police and even some outside the United States, have since begun to use its services.

"When the public thinks about public safety technology, they think about handcuffs, and they think about what they see in movies," Polega went on. "But these are the applications that are making sure that the police car gets to where the police car needs to get to provide that aid, provide that service, and then hopefully make sure that either justice is served or … public safety, which is a huge underpinning of our democracy, continues to be able to keep moving in the fashion that we want it to."

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