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FCC Seeks Feedback on 911 Storm Outages

WASHINGTON: Feds are looking into what happened June 29 when a freak thunderstorm knocked out 911 service in several states along the storm’s path. The Federal Communications Commission has issued a Public Notice asking for comments regarding the outages.

“From isolated breakdowns in Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, and Pennsylvania, to systemic failures in northern Virginia and West Virginia, it appears that a significant number of 911 systems and services were partially or completely down for several days,” the PN states. “The impact of the storm in northern Virginia was particularly severe… where over 1 million people faced the possibility of not being able to call 911 successfully.”

Both primary and backup 911 systems failed throughout Northern Virginia, affecting phone lines, broadband service and wireless networks. With today’s Notice, the commission is expanding an ongoing inquiry focused on the June 29 storm, known as a “derecho.” The agency is looking for information related to other natural disasters that knocked out emergency communications.

The commission said it “seeks to develop a complete and accurate record of all the facts surrounding the outages during this storm, as well as outages resulting from natural disasters in order to evaluate the overall resiliency and reliability of our nation’s 911 systems and services. We also seek comment on the impact these outages had on the various segments of the public, including consumers, hospitals, and public safety entities.”

Questions regarding the derecho include what specifically caused the outages, to which elements of various systems, and how long they were down. The commission also wants to know the extent of the physical damage to 911 infrastructures, and how that can be prevented in the future. It asks how service providers became aware of the outages, and what role the absence of back-up power played. It wants to know if the June 29 derecho was an “extraordinary” event compared to other natural disasters.

Comments on the Notice will be included in the commission’s overall docket on 911 reliability, No. 11-60. Comments are due Aug. 17, with reply comments due Sept. 24.