Why local Sprint customers lost access to 911 service last month

WASHINGTON — It was nearly a month ago when 911 service went down for Sprint wireless callers in the region. Sprint is now explaining what happened and answering tough questions from area leaders.

“People call 911 on the worst day of their life and it’s just not OK they can’t get the help they need,” said Fairfax County Supervisor Sharon Bulova to Sprint regional President Brian Hedlund after his presentation at a Council of Governments Board meeting Wednesday.

Hedlund explained how the multi-floor electronic wireless hub, called a switch, went offline.

“There were severe storms in the area. There was a transformer explosion and fire in the District of Columbia. Pepco, the local and commercial provider of service, lost power and our switch site was in that area,” he said.

Fuel tanks powering generators then began to lose capacity when the pump getting fuel up from an underground tank failed, Hedlund said. Eventually the room got too hot for the sensitive equipment, and it had to be powered down so the millions of dollars of electronics could be brought back online later.

The outage also caused drivers difficulty on L Street.

“I think they raised their hand and said we didn’t do this right and that we will learn from this,” said Montgomery County Council member Roger Berliner.

The company is re-evaluating its systems and will be in more communication with area 911 directors, including attending the group’s monthly meetings.

“Action is being taken and it is being taken swift to ensure this doesn’t happen again,” Hedlund said.

Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

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