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WASHINGTON — It has been five years since the derecho hit the D.C. region with a double whammy: mass power outages and a major loss of 911 service throughout Northern Virginia.
Not only were scores of people left without electricity during hot weather, but many could not reach first responders to report emergencies in the aftermath of the deadly storm.
“We discovered a lot as a result of the derecho,” Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Sharon Bulova told WTOP one year after the storm. “We discovered weaknesses in the Verizon system in our 911 system. What happened during the derecho must never happen again. It was horrible.”
The 911 outage, which impacted more than 1 million people, was caused by a backup generator at Verizon that failed to operate properly.
Multiple agencies investigated the failure, including the Federal Communications Commission, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments and Virginia’s State Corporation Commission, which regulates utilities.
The FCC issued a report calling the incident “preventable” and “unacceptable,” prompting a number of changes to how the 911 systems in Northern Virginia operate.
According to Verizon, the company improved the way it maintains local backup systems. It says it can now identify and solve problems more quickly and communicate more effectively with local governments.
“We’ve done a number of things to check our backup power,” a Verizon spokesman said after the derecho hit. “What happened June 29 was unacceptable. We recognize that, and that’s not what we’re about.”
Among other things, the company said it conducted intensive and comprehensive audits at switching centers that house 911 equipment, checking generators and battery systems.
Fairfax County officials have also worked to make improvements to their 911 system, allowing people to text 911 instead of calling.
That change went live in September 2015.
The county’s 911 call center is the largest in Virginia and among the ten largest in the nation. It gets about one million calls each year for service.
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