Few things in technology are certain, but most Americans feel comfortable with this one: in an emergency, you pick up the phone and dial 911, and someone comes to your aid…right? Not if you were a resident of Northern Virginia early last summer, when a string of fierce thunderstorms (sometimes called “derecho” storms) passed over, causing power outages, heavy rain and downed trees. After the storms swept over on June 29, 2012, 17 emergency call centers serving more than two million people in three states received no 911 calls for an extended period of time.
Local governments affected by the emergency services and telephone outages were required to file formal reports with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC (News - Alert)) in the wake of the storm and delayed service restoration, and the agency launched an investigation into the causes, ultimately laying the blame for the problems on telephone companies servicing the affected areas, the Washington Post is reporting today. The agency concluded that failures by various telephone companies affected service at 77 emergency call centers in six states and left dispatchers unable to receive vital information such as a caller’s location. Some of the problems persisted for days. These 77 call centers serve more than 3.6 million customers in six states.
The report on the failures is expected to lead to some changes in the way telephone companies carry on operations in the wake of storms that lead to power outages and other damage. The agency is expected to propose new requirements for telephone companies to ensure that they have backup power, perform proper testing and maintenance, monitor their 911 systems and notify local jurisdictions about outages.
“Here’s the bottom line: We can’t prevent disasters from happening,” said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski (News - Alert) in a statement. “But we can work relentlessly to make sure Americans can connect with emergency responders when they need to most.”
While the most severe problems were in Northern Virginia and West Virginia, the FCC said it also uncovered evidence of “isolated” breakdowns in 911 service following the storms in Ohio, New Jersey, Maryland and Indiana.
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