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Meanwhile, Verizon Under Investigation for Dropping the Ball on 911 Calls During Storm

Phillip Dampier February 22, 2011 Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't, Verizon, Video No Comments

This home in Silver Spring became fully involved in fire after neighbors couldn't reach 911 and had to rescue the 94-year old resident themselves.

More than 10,000 calls to 911 during last month’s blizzard on the east coast failed to reach emergency officials over Verizon’s network according to the Federal Communications Commission.  Even worse, terrorism experts suspect the 911 failures could impact the entire nation during a major disaster, weather event, or terrorist attack.

Last month, a Silver Spring residence went up in flames and neighbors had to rescue the 94-year old owner themselves after repeated attempts to call 911 failed.

The latest and most serious incident occurred in Washington, D.C. and its suburbs Jan. 26 when a snowstorm triggered more than 10,000 calls for help that never reached emergency responders.  The blame is being laid at the feet of one company — Verizon Communications.

All 14 circuits in the Verizon network that properly route all wireless calls in Montgomery County failed and nine of 10 Verizon circuits in Prince George’s County failed over a five-hour period on the night in question. This resulted in approximately 8,300 blocked 911 calls in Montgomery County and 1,700 blocked 911 calls in Prince George’s County that evening, according to Rear Admiral Jamie Barnett, Chief of the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau.

“I know that you will agree that any 911 call which is not connected can have serious consequences, but the large number of missed 911 calls on January 26 is truly alarming,” Barnett wrote Verizon. “The ability to call 911 is critical to the safety of the public. This is especially true during extreme weather events. The public rightly expects that they can use 911 to reach the appropriate first responders in an emergency. In addition to your written response, I request a meeting with appropriate representatives from Verizon within the next two weeks to discuss your resolution of this matter.”

Barnett and the FCC also expressed concerns these problems may not be an isolated incident, but could be a nightmare waiting to happen wherever Verizon provides telephone service.

Verizon blamed an equipment failure and an avalanche of calls for the problem.

“We have been addressing this issue directly with the counties involved, and will work cooperatively to address the FCC’s questions, as well,” said Harry Mitchell, a Verizon spokesman.

This YouTube video shows a 911 call in Montgomery County going unanswered for nearly a minute and a half.  (2 minutes)

WUSA-TV in Washington has followed the 911 disruptions for several weeks now.  Channel 9 picks up the story starting with the fire in Silver Spring.  (6 minutes)

WTTG-TV in Washington also reports on the frustration from 911 callers as well as city and local officials annoyed with Verizon.  (6 minutes)

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