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911 issues in Va. stretch into Monday after storm

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Emergency calls were being answered at 911 call centers in northern Virginia on Monday after being disrupted for much of the weekend as a result of Friday night's severe thunderstorms, but one local leader was unhappy with the pace of the restoration and Verizon's response.

The storm known as a derecho included near-hurricane-force winds and caused millions of people to lose electricity. It also knocked out power to a Verizon facility in Arlington, Va., that resulted in 911 calls not working in Arlington, Fairfax and Prince William counties and the city of Manassas — an area with a population of more than 1.7 million.

None of those jurisdictions reported any deaths that resulted from the 911 outage or serious medical problems that were exacerbated. But Sharon Bulova, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, said the extended outage was unacceptable.

"It's just not OK for the entire 911 system in the region to go down for the period of time that we were out, especially after an enormous emergency where people needed to make those calls the most," Bulova said Monday.

Bulova, a Democrat, said she planned to work through the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments to establish a regional task force to determine what went wrong and how to avoid similar problems in the future. Verizon spokesman Harry Mitchell said the telecommunications giant, which provides 911 service to the affected jurisdictions, would conduct a thorough analysis of what caused the outage.

In Fairfax, 911 service was not fully functional until Monday afternoon. Although calls started to go through again late Saturday, operators were not being supplied with callers' physical locations, Mitchell said.

Problems also persisted Monday afternoon in Arlington, where test calls by county workers revealed that some cellphone calls to 911 were not going through, said John Crawford, the county's emergency communications commander. Verizon was working to resolve the issue.

On Saturday, Fairfax officials told residents to drive themselves to police stations or fire stations rather than calling 911.

"This is the time when you want them to come to you because of your emergency," Bulova said.

Mitchell said the storm knocked out both the main power source and backup power source to the Arlington facility, and telephone lines were downed throughout the region.

"This was just a ferocious storm, and it has impacted us worse than some hurricanes have," Mitchell said. "The charge here is to move forward and make progress, and we're doing that."

In Prince William, 911 service was down from Saturday morning through Monday morning, said Jason Grant, a county spokesman. Residents were told to call non-emergency lines, and those calls were connected to a dispatch center, he said.

Grant said one person in Prince William had a heart problem and had trouble connecting with 911, but paramedics were still able to arrive in time to get the person to a hospital.

"Obviously the biggest concern was if someone has an emergency, 911 is not working and there is a real life-threatening situation," Grant said. "Fortunately, we didn't have that worst-case scenario happen."

Some 911 calls in the affected jurisdictions were routed to the city of Alexandria, where dispatchers used radios to communicate with emergency workers in the other counties. Alexandria's 911 service was not affected.

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