Virginia investigates 911 phone system failure

WASHINGTON – The failure of a large portion of the D.C. region’s 911 emergency system after the derecho in June has produced another investigation.

The state of Virginia is asking questions about why the system failed in a large part of northern Virginia and what can be done to speed up what is known as the “next generation” of 911 service.

Virginia’s investigation is the second one to launch after the derecho. In July, the Federal Communications Commission began looking into the system’s failure.

The commission that Virginia has assembled includes 15 members. It is supposed to have solutions ready before the end of the year.

Jay Fisette, an Arlington County Board member, is a member of the commission. He says he is already sure there would be quicker notification if the system failed again.

“It was totally unacceptable on June 29,” he says.

Fisette says in the future, Verizon will communicate better with local governments.

“How could they not be? They were raked over the coals.”

The system broke down for several days, leaving almost two million people without emergency phone service after both power and back-up generators failed at a central Verizon control station in Arlington.

After the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, many emergency systems across the country were upgraded — one reason why a breakdown on Northern Virginia’s 911 system during the June derecho was shocking for many people.

Sharon Bulova, chairperson of Fairfax County’s Board of Supervisors, says local governments will not let this failure simmer.

“[We will make] sure that what needs to be done and the investments that need to be made are indeed made,” Bulova says.

WTOP’s Hank Siverberg contributed to this report. Follow Hank and WTOP on Twitter.

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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