Generator problems are to blame for Verizon's response to the June 29 derecho storm, according to a presentation from a company representative Thursday during a town hall meeting hosted by Del. Kaye Kory’s (D-38th) in Falls Church.
Doug Sullivan, of Verizon, said the derecho storm “downed more poles and generated more commercial trouble tickets for Verizon than Hurricane Irene” and blamed the loss of service, particularly to the 911 network, on “multiple failures cascading from the generator problems”.
[Dominion Virginia Power also gave a presentation at the Town Hall. Read about its presentation here.]
Due to the power outage, Verizon did not have enough information to create a plan to fix the damage and restore power to its customers.
“It is very scary to be without any kind of communication or air conditioning when we experience a million-year storm,” said Kory, who called the meeting so residents had a chance to communicate directly with the service providers.
Residents in attendance criticized Verizon for their failure to inform customers about the problems they were experiencing and when service would be restored. One Lake Barcroft resident said when he had his Verizon service installed, he asked for a copper line to be installed as well, but was refused by the technician. The resident emphasized that such an option would have been helpful during the derecho storm since “people lost the ability to have a phone” and “that’s a very important thing.”
“When we face significant network related issues such as those caused by the derecho, Verizon will share additional information about the restoration efforts more quickly to provide greater insight regarding the extent of the impact to our subscribers and the expected duration of the restoral efforts,” Sullivan said.
What Caused the 911 System Failure
According to Sullivan, the only way the 911 system could have failed is if multiple failures in the system had occurred such as the case with the derecho service that caused the system to crash.
The Verizon 911 network is designed with multiple levels of backup systems to help the network operate during disasters and power failures. On June 30, the batteries and backup generators failed to start at the Verizon Arlington and Fairfax locations. The batteries are designed to support the system when a generator fails. However, in this case, the generators did not come online and once the batteries failed, the power to the generator could not be restored, causing the temporary loss of service to the 911 network.
“As a result, three public safety answering service points did not receive 911 calls for several hours on Saturday and during that weekend,” Sullivan said. “Verizon understands the critical nature of 911 service to the community. We are committed to making improvements to avoid the performance of the 911 system during the derecho.”
Sullivan did not have an assessment of how many customers were affected by not being able to call 911 for emergencies. A representative from the Arlington Communication Center said they did not experience any loss of life as a result of the outages, but they experienced a 23 percent increase of calls.
Following an investigation into the generator failure, Sullivan said backup power system audits were conducted at locations in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C. and critical blackout testing was performed to ensure the company tests for all system failures. Other suggestions for improvements include semi-annual audits, communication of escalation paths and communication during the events.
Sullivan said a report of the state of 911 centers will be completed and then released in a few months.