Audits needed of backup power for 911 service providers

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Local,Crime,Ben Giles

Verizon and other 911 service providers have no standards to adhere to when it comes to providing backup power for emergency phone services, a part of the emergency communications infrastructure that failed during June's derecho storm.

A draft report by a special task force from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments recommends Verizon and other emergency service providers conduct comprehensive audits of their backup power capabilities.

The loss of backup power contributed to "a complete failure" of Verizon's telephone services during the June 29 storm and left more than two million people in the Washington region without the ability to contact 911 services. Residents in Fairfax, Arlington and Prince William counties were without 911 service for up to five days after the storm, unable to get calls through even when call centers were supposedly up and running again.

The report also recommends COG create a committee to provide more oversight of 911 services in the Washington region and regionwide plans for improving those capabilities.

Prior to the storm, Verizon failed to resolve known maintenance issues with its backup generators in Fairfax County and Arlington County, which failed to start when Verizon facilities in the Northern Virginia region lost commercial power in the derecho, according to the draft report that was presented to COG officials on Wednesday. Then technicians dispatched to Fairfax County the day after the storm took hours to realize the generator supporting the 911 services infrastructure wasn't operating -- all while emergency batteries drained and lost power, the report found.

Those facilities in Arlington and Fairfax County served as the backup to many other 911 centers in the event of major outages, according to the report, meaning that even the backup processes for receiving and responding to emergency calls failed.

Verizon initially denied it was at fault in the loss of service, but relented this summer in a report to COG.

The Maryland Public Service Commission, the Virginia State Corporate Commission, and the Federal Communications Commission are also working on reports detailing what went wrong during the derecho and what Verizon must address in the future.

A final report from COG is expected to be completed early next year.

bgiles@washingtonexaminer.com

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