Report criticizes Verizon response to 911 failure

Hank Silverberg,

WASHINGTON – It was a startling failure. After the June 29 derecho, the 911 Emergency System that serves more than two million people in Northern Virginia failed.

But a new report reviewing what happened that day offers no guarantee that the area’s emergency phone system won’t fail again.

The failure affected more than two million people in seven Northern Virginia jurisdictions for more than 24 hours. Earlier reports blamed a lack of power at a Verizon facility in Arlington and that a backup power system also failed, cutting the link between the public and dispatchers.

A draft report presented to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments Wednesday criticizes Verizon for waiting hours to inform the local governments and the public that the 911 system was down.

The report recommends a complete review of the local 911 system, providing additional redundancy in backup systems and semi-annual “outage drills,” among other suggestions.

Fairfax County 911 Director Steve Souder, who helped draft the report, says his county has already added Verizon representatives into emergency operations centers, including during superstorm Sandy. But the system is not fool proof.

“I don’t think we can make that guarantee nor do I think Verizon can,” Souder says.

The 136-page report also recommends that 911 fees charged to consumers should be targeted for 911 improvements and not diverted elsewhere. And the report asks state lawmakers to provide funding for Next Generation 911, which is considered more reliable.

A final report from the COG won’t be ready until similar investigations are concluded by the Federal Communications Commission and Virginia’s State Corporation Commission.

The association provides local government leaders a forum to discuss issues like development and transportation that affect Maryland, the District of Columbia and Northern Virginia. The draft report is available on the COG website.

The phone system failure also affected customers using wireless, FIOS, cable and landline services.

The storm left extensive tree damage in the region and left more than one million people without power for days.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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