FCC orders emergency power back-ups

The Federal Communications Commission is demanding back-up power requirements for telephone companies after 911 disruptions endangered millions of citizens last summer.

The recent report –  from an examination of emergency response issues during the June 2012 derecho storm, one of the most destructive in U.S. history – also calls for carriers to monitor networks more closely, and abide to federal outage reporting requirements.

Nearly 80 emergency call centres in six states lost phone connections during the storm that cut a swath of destruction from the east coast through the Midwestern United States.

Service providers included Verizon and Frontier. FCC investigators found that in northern Virginia, phone circuits were powered by a single central office that did not have functional generators, leaving about 1 million citizens with no way to call for help. About 17 per cent of generators belonging to one unnamed company didn’t work.

“They didn’t maintain them or test them properly,” the FCC was quoted as saying in a USA Today story.

It has also been pointed out that phone companies took too long to notify 911 centres of outages. Officials in Fairfax County, Virginia said it took Verizon three hours to inform them that service was down.

“Verizon understands the critical role it plays in the 911 ecosystem. We take this role seriously, and when an issue arises, we act quickly to investigate, correct and apply any learnings across our system,” Verizon said in a statement.

On Tuesday, the FCC announced dates have been set for a series of hearings on communications failures during Superstorm Sandy, with the first scheduled to take place in Manhattan on Feb. 5.