Verizon says it does not have records from July 2010, but agreed that a flaw could have blocked some 911 calls during both events.
Verizon later told the FCC that the company had noticed in 2010 that its lines had automatically shut down when hit with a deluge of 911 calls. But Verizon did not diagnose and fix a problem at the root of the outages until after the FCC asked for explanations in early 2011, Verizon and FCC correspondence shows.
“After September 11th, you would think we would have the best system in the country, and it’s pretty clear we don’t,” Burke said.
A summer storm
The Fairfax County 911 center is a large operation that has invested heavily to deliver on the promise “always there, always ready . . . 24/7/365.”
It is among the 10 largest 911 centers in the country, and Fairfax pays $3 milliona year for Verizon 911 service alone, county records show. It pays an additional $18,000 a month to have a Verizon technician on-site to troubleshoot problems, a rare precaution among the nation’s nearly 6,000 emergency 911 centers, experts said.
But when Verizon’s service failed in the derecho, cutting all calls to the 911 center for seven hours, the county resorted to telling residents to go to a firehouse or a police station or to wave down passing emergency workers.
“You don’t want something like this to happen, but believe me, because this happened in the Washington area, this has gotten the attention of 911 centers across the nation,” said Steve Souder, Fairfax’s emergency services director.
As the storm hit, shortly before 11 p.m. June 29, the lights inside Fairfax’s call center briefly flickered before its backup power kicked in.
“We kept on trucking,” Souder said.
Fairfax, Prince William County, Manassas and Manassas Park lost all 911 service for hours. Those jurisdictions and 21 others in Virginia — extending to the Roanoke and Richmond areas — had intermittent problems with 911 calls that continued at some locations until July 4, state regulators said.
During the first 29 hours, about 1,900 calls were not relayed by Verizon to Fairfax County’s 911 center, according to company data.
When power failed, most of Verizon’s generators for Northern Virginia either did not start or quickly failed, and, later, backup batteries went dead at company facilities. Calls could not go through, and Verizon was unaware of the problem because the system that monitors alarms for 911 outages throughout the Mid-Atlantic also lost battery power.
Verizon technicians did not know how to restart some equipment. One worker checked only part of a Verizon facility, saw that lights were on there and assumed that everything was fine. That assumption delayed 911 repair for several hours.