2012 was a difficult year, weather-wise, for the United States. The east coast was ripped by Superstorm Sandy, while the Midwest was rocked by a severe derecho. Any time a natural disaster hits emergency responders are taxed to the limits, as are emergency call centers, like 911. In fact, during the derecho many 911 call centers in the Midwest and mid-Atlantic regions of the U.S. experienced outages and disruptions. This dangerous failure led to an inquiry by the Federal Communications Commission and the results of that study were recently made available to the public.
The study, “The Impact of the June 2012 Derecho on Communications and Services: Report and Recommendations,” looked into ways to strengthen the resiliency and reliability of our 911 communications networks.
As FCC (News - Alert) Chairman Julius Genachowski put it, “Americans must be able to reach 9-1-1, especially in times of natural disasters. Today’s report on the June 2012 derecho finds that a number of preventable system failures caused major disruptions to communications providers’ networks connecting to 9-1-1 call centers during and shortly after the storm. As a result, 9-1-1 was partially or completely unavailable to millions of Americans - in some instances, for several days. These failures are unacceptable and the FCC will do whatever is necessary to ensure the reliability of 9-1-1. The FCC will soon launch a rulemaking to improve the reliability of existing 9-1-1 networks and prevent failures like those outlined in today’s report. We will also accelerate the Commission’s Next Generation (NG) 9-1-1 agenda. NG networks harness the power of the Internet to improve the availability and reliability of 9-1-1 communications. Here’s the bottom line: We can’t prevent disasters from happening, but we can work relentlessly to make sure Americans can connect with emergency responders when they need to most.”
The report noted that 911 systems broke down in states like Ohio, New Jersey, Maryland, Indiana, West Virginia and Virginia, sometimes for several days. This left more than 3.6 million people with uncertain access to emergency services for various periods of time. Since derechos are generally unpredictable, companies could not prepare for the weather event. It also revealed serious flaws in the resiliency of 911 networks.
The study recommended that service providers take precautionary care to implement industry standards and best practices, maintain adequate backup power, closely monitor their networks, periodically audit their circuits and alert 911 call centers when there are problems.
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Edited by Ashley Caputo