“They have had their opportunity to do this voluntarily, and they have shirked that opportunity at every turn,” Connolly said of Verizon. “To protect the public, we very clearly need the FCC.
“This is a life-and-death situation. If someone has a heart attack, 911 has got to work,” he said.
Connolly cited a Washington Post analysis published Sunday that showed that the Washington region’s 911 emergency network has suffered at least 11 outages since July 2010, at times leaving residents who rushed to report life-threatening injuries instead listening to busy signals. Some outages blocked all calls in a particular area; others restricted the number of calls or deprived authorities of location data and call-back numbers.
The troubles occurred in a system operated by Verizon, whose lines handle every 911 call made in Washington’s suburbs. Verizon routes 911 calls to 1,800 government-run answering centers, making it one of the largest such carriers in the nation.
Verizon spokesman Harry J. Mitchell said Tuesday that the company has made many improvements in recent months and plans more. Verizon is working closely with the FCC and state regulators to examine the cause of past outages and determine what can be done to prevent future ones, he said.
“Verizon understands the critical function of 911 service and the critical role we play in successfully delivering calls to 911 from people in distress,” Mitchell said. “We take this role seriously, and when an issue arises, we act quickly to investigate, correct and apply any lessons learned across our system.”
Mitchell said Verizon’s system performed well during Hurricane Sandy, which he described as a field test of improvements the company has made to its systems.
Rep. Laura Richardson (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on a House panel on emergency preparedness, said she has been worried about the 911 system’s reliability since an outage swept Northern Virginia during June’s derecho storm.
“It is time for the Federal Communications Commission investigators to determine once and for all what the causes for these failures are, work to correct them, and work expeditiously with appropriate state and local emergency centers to upgrade and make the 911 systems more resilient,” Richardson said in a statement.
Rep. James P. Moran (D-Va.) said that although he believed that Verizon had been trying to address its problems, recent events provide a chance for improvements. “Congress needs to take this opportunity to strengthen our 911 systems across the country,” Moran said.