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Derecho report: Agencies could avoid most 911 failures

Back in June a severe wind storm called a derecho blew through the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States. It not only caused power loss to millions of homes and businesses, but it also created huge disruptions in 911-related communications, in some cases taking out emergency communications services for days.

The Federal Communications Commission spent the last six months assembling data from the region, and has now released its findings in a report  entitled “Impact of the June 2012 Derecho on Communications Networks and Services.”

In it, the FCC takes the affected agencies to task, calling such a widespread failure of communications “unacceptable.”

Aside from physical damage, the FCC said, most failures resulted “in large part because of avoidable planning and system failures, including the lack of functional backup power, notably in central offices.” Monitoring systems also went down, cutting providers off from network functions. Most of these problems could have been avoided if communications providers followed established best practices, according to the report, which includes recommendations on how systems can be improved to prevent such a widespread outage from occurring again.

Those include auditing of 911 circuits regularly, ensuring that central offices have backup power systems and having established reporting protocols for 911 outages. The FCC also touts the emerging Next Generation 911 services as a way to ensure more reliable service.

The report’s recommendations are instructive for any federal, state or local agency that provides emergency communications. Yet this won’t be the FCC’s final word on the matter. The FCC notes that, as the derecho report was being prepared, Superstorm Sandy struck, wreaking havoc in the Northeast. The agency will analyze the impact of that storm on emergency communications next.

Posted by Greg Crowe on Jan 14, 2013 at 9:39 AM


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