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Moran Calls for FCC Investigation into 911 Failures

by ARLnow.com July 13, 2012 at 10:00 am 2,746 18 Comments

Rep. Jim Moran has joined two other Northern Virginia congressmen in calling for an Federal Communications Commission investigation into failures of the 911 system following the late June derecho storm.

In a press release, Moran said any weakness in the 911 system that could allow similar failures in the future must be fixed.

Today Representatives Jim Moran, Frank Wolf and Gerry Connolly wrote to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) calling for action to prevent future failures of the 9-1-1 communications system in the wake of the late June “derecho” storm which shut down the emergency phone system in jurisdictions across Northern Virginia and in other Washington-area communities.

“In the event of an emergency situation, whether it be a natural disaster or man-made threat, the public needs confidence that they can get through to 9-1-1 operators,” said Moran. “This storm exposed a weakness in our response system, and now that we know it exists, we must fix it.”

The Congressmen called on the FCC to review and move forward on a past proposal that could have prevented the emergency service outage.

“Events like the 9-1-1 failure in Northern Virginia demand a serious reassessment of this proposed rule and the consideration of additional reforms that could increase the safety of all Americans seeking 9-1-1 emergency services,” the lawmakers wrote.

In 2007, after Hurricane Katrina, the FCC proposed regulations to require phone companies to provide at least eight hours of backup power for all cell phone towers. The proposed regulations were struck down by OMB due to procedural issues related to FCC’s handling of the public comment period, not on the substance of the regulation itself.

The sudden and powerful storms that hit Northern Virginia on July 29th caused more than 460,000 individuals and families to lose power in the midst of a week-long heat wave. Reports of failed phone service began on June 30th, lasting for several days.

The letter from Reps. Connolly, Moran and Wolf, after the jump.

July 12, 2012

Julius Genachowski
Federal Communications Commission
445 12th St., S.W.
Washington, DC 20554

Dear Chairman Genachowski,

We are writing today regarding the powerful “derecho” storm that hit the D.C. Metro region on Friday, June 29th, leaving many residents without power for over a week. In Northern Virginia, 460,000 residents experienced power loss.

The inconvenience of the power outages was compounded by a serious failure of the 9-1-1 network, operated by Verizon, in Northern Virginia. On Saturday, June 30th, Fairfax County’s Emergency Operations Center first reported that callers were unable to reach 9-1-1 operators. While service was at least partially restored the same day, the system remained compromised and calls continued to be misdirected by the network until at least Tuesday morning, July 3rd. The system failure extended to residents in Arlington County, Prince William County, Falls Church, Manassas and Manassas Park who were also unable to access vital 9-1-1 call center services.

While the 9-1-1 failures primarily affected Northern Virginia, the 9-1-1 network encompasses other parts of the Commonwealth, the District of Columbia and Maryland. It is deeply troubling, particularly in light of the significant efforts made to improve response capabilities after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, that the entire national capital region’s emergency 9-1-1 system could have been so easily disrupted.

It is our understanding that, following Hurricane Katrina, the FCC proposed a regulation that would have required telecommunications companies to provide at least eight hours of backup power at all cell sites. While that attempt did not reach fruition due to a technicality related to administration of the comment period, events like the 9-1-1 failure in Northern Virginia demand a serious reassessment of this proposed rule and the consideration of additional reforms that could increase the safety of all Americans seeking 9-1-1 emergency services.

In light of the FCC’s commitment to public safety, we request an update on the agency’s efforts to modernize and improve 9-1-1 services. Thank you for your consideration of this request.

Representative Jim Moran
Representative Gerry Connolly
Representative Frank Wolf

  • James Moron

    Has anyone called for an investigation into his failures?

    • haha


    • What a maroon…

      My thoughts exactly.

    • Anon

      Moran’s failures are legion and, as usual, he’s grandstanding. But….he happens to be right on this one: the FCC should investigate.

    • +1000

  • CW

    All the descriptions of what actually caused the failure leave pretty much all technical details to the imagination. Is the entire system cell-tower-based? While the opinion seems to be that the current system could be made more robust, it would stand to reason that unless they develop a system using tinfoil hats and brain waves to communicate directly with the 911 operators, at some level of infrastructure damage the system would eventually go down.

    • Westover

      That is why redundancies need to be built into life safery systems. If tin hats and brain waves are available, they should use them. For the time being they should be using cellular, fiber optic, and even your classic copper wire.

  • Bluemontsince1961

    Well…at least for once the Dems and Pubs seemed to agree and to work together to solve a problem. Doesn’t happen very much these days. It seems both would rather obstruct the other to play to their respective extremist bases and “score points” with them, or cater to their respective rich special interest groups instead of genuinely paying attention to regular people and getting things accomplished for the good of the whole country.

  • TCE

    Really two issues… first was the failure of the cell towers when they lost power and the system was overloaded… this shouldn’t have impacted land lines though.

    But there was also the problem with the 911 center and it own backup power system failing. This prevented anything from getting through including land lines.

  • haha

    backup for cell phone towers? that would be a lot of batteries.

    • Lloyd

      Or a lot of noisy generators.

  • soarlslacker

    Eight hour back-up is a joke. 8-hour back-up was the standard in the 80’s. A minimum of 24-hour back-up is required.
    Most of time, a problem is not discovered by the user until the back-up battery dies and service is lost. The carrier should get an alarm the minute any place in the network suffers a power loss and goes to battery back-up. In an event such as the “derecho”, a million alarms are all going off at once and a Network Operations Center for a carrier sees and deals with them in a prioritized fashion. The possibilities are: they did not get the alarms, the alarms were assigned lower priorities, they were not dealt with in the proper sequence, or they did not have the resources to deal with the issues in a timely fashion.
    Carriers used to prioritize restoration in the following manner: 1–Circuits that manage and provide their network routing, maintenance and grooming. (You have to be able to manage your network to provide service to others), 2–Federal Government circuits, 3–Private line traffic for large customers.
    Some questions that should be asked include:
    Are the local 911 services for Northern VA on a self-healing fiber ring? If so, how many failures in that ring happened? The point of a self-healing fiber ring is that when there is a problem, the traffic is routed in the opposite direction automatically to insure connectivity.
    Does the design of the NoVa 911network utilize both diversity and redundancy (diversity in routes and redundancy with in a single carrier and the use of multiple carriers)? In other words, greater reliability can be achieved by using multiple carriers and multiple fiber routes within those carriers, in the hope that they all do not fail at once. In other words, you can make a network and an application such as 911 service “Bullet-Proof”, if you choose to do so.

    • Buckwheat

      Good points!

      911 is only the public’s interface with emergency services. This was an unprecedented hard failure of our communication infrastructure. Thankfully, it was Mother Nature attacking us and not someone else.

      Demonstrates how fragile our high performance digital networks are with only zeros and ones running around.

      What did work? The analogue transistor radio from the 1950’s.

  • South Side Chris

    I had to call 911 this afternoon from my cell phone, it still didn’t work. Just rang and rang and rang. A guy was riding his bicycle southbound on northbound 395. Ended up having to call the Virginia State Police directly.

  • Suburban Not Urban

    I guess I don’t understand why this is a matter for the FCC – isn’t this a contractual matter between the County and their contractor – Verizon. I think most agree that the performance here was abysmal and that something needs to be done if we can’t handle something like this which in some senses wasn’t really that major of an event. IE a Katrina like event would have been 10X worse or more.

    • Westover

      The FCC regulates Verizon, so they would be the authority on the issue.


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