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."
"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," the lawmakers wrote.
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.
Full text of the letter below:
July 12, 2012
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