After storm, 911, phone service remains spotty

July 3, 2012

By Patricia Sullivan, The Washington Post

Fairfax County’s 911 emergency center operated at just half capacity Monday as Verizon struggled to figure out why both its primary and backup power systems failed after Friday night’s storm and left much of Northern Virginia without 911 service through the weekend.

Callers with medical and safety emergencies caused by soaring temperatures, power outages and downed electric cables received either rapid busy signals, recorded messages saying the line was inoperative or dead silence, even after Verizon’s service was restored, local officials said.

The loss of power from both primary and backup systems, according to Harry J. Mitchell, Verizon’s director of public relations, damaged the company’s computer hardware and software and caused other mechanical problems in a chain reaction that has perplexed and alarmed state and local governments.

“It is understandable that something like this could happen, but shouldn’t there be some redundancy or backup to keep 911 up and running?” said Sharon Bulova (D), chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. “It’s not acceptable for the region’s 911 system to go down.”

Bulova and other elected officials are asking the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments to set up an investigative task force.

Corey A. Stewart (R), chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors, called the 911 outage “shocking” and “unacceptable.”

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