FCC report on storm released

PARKERSBURG – The Federal Communications Commission’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau has released its findings and recommendations relating to 911 service loss during the derecho storm this past summer.

The brief, but violent storm, led to extensive loss of 911 services in some parts of the mid-Atlantic states where it hit, and the FCC hopes to address causes and actions that can be taken to help prevent similar outages again, according to the report.

Wood County 911 Director Randy Lowe said he has reviewed the report, noting Wood County’s 911 was better prepared than some.

“The only issue we had was with Frontier and the 911 lines, which were down for a few hours. But we were able to use our Parkersburg backup 911 so the lines were actually probably only down less than five minutes. Even though the lines were down at the main Core Road center, the backup at Parkersburg was working just fine and we were able to make the changeover within a few minutes,” Lowe said.

“It was just a matter of transitioning and that typically takes only about five minutes. In the meantime, the dispatcher at Parkersburg is available there by phone if needed. I don’t think there were any incidents that I was aware of where anyone was adversely affected by that small delay,” Lowe said.

“It is my understanding, through Frontier, that the problem was power issues and they did not have generators at certain sites, and the batteries were dead. We have since been guaranteed that has been corrected and the problem will not happen again,” Lowe said.

Lowe said the center has a natural gas generator.

“Prior to the storm we were monitoring the situation through our weather stations. We notified all the public safety agencies and turned on the generator. It powered us for one to two weeks before we switched back. We never lost power here at the main center, it was just the phone lines that were down while Frontier was getting power back up and running. We didn’t suffer the effects some other areas in West Virginia and Virginia suffered because we had that redundancy, that backup was in place,” Lowe said.

With the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials International’s support, including comments filed with the FCC, and input from affected public safety answering points, state and local government agency officials and commercial 911 service service providers, the bureau undertook the review, leading to the report released this week.

APCO President Terry Hall said “today’s report confirms that adherence to existing best practices on the part of the commercial carriers would ordinarily have prevented much of the outages that unfortunately occurred. APCO appreciates the hard work of the FCC staff, and the steps that service providers have already taken to improve 911network resiliency. The report’s recommendations, which are consistent with APCO’s publicly filed comments, reflect common sense steps that all stakeholders can take to ensure that 911 networks are as reliable as possible, including in the face of large scale emergencies.”

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski announced plans to launch new rulemaking to “strengthen the reliability and resiliency nationwide of our country’s 911communications networks during major disasters.” Especially in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, “APCO also looks forward to continuing to work with the commission on ways to further ensure the resiliency of 911 communications, which might call for more specific requirements on the part of 911 service providers,” Hall said.