Verizon Wireless failed to connect around 10,000 calls to 911 during the Jan. 26 snowstorm that blanketed Maryland, according to the FCC. The agency has requested that the carrier provided a detailed account of what went wrong and what the carrier plans to do to fix it. The FCC said it is worried the problem may not be limited to the area, and instead is “widespread across Verizon’s footprint.”
James Barnett, chief of the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, sent Verizon a letter Feb. 17 (pdf) detailing the problem, which he said blocked 8,300 wireless calls to 911 in Montgomery County, Maryland, and 1,700 calls to 911 in Prince George’s County, Maryland, on Jan. 26.
Barnett wrote that Verizon’s system stopped taking 911 calls during the snowstorm and did not alert the local 911 answering stations about the problem. He noted that 911 workers only discovered the problem after they received complaints from callers.
“We have taken seriously the concerns about the outage that was triggered by the mass call event that occurred during the January 26th snowstorm. We have been addressing this issue directly with the counties involved, and will work cooperatively to address the FCC’s questions, as well,” said Verizon spokesman Harry Mitchell. “Our objective is to provide the best service to our customers, and we will continue to work with 911 centers and others to ensure that callers receive the level of service they deserve and expect when they call 911.”
Barnett said the trouble was not due to an overload of the system or faulty equipment, and that similar troubles have occurred in the area a number of times before.
The FCC hopes to roll out a Next Generation 9-1-1 system in the next few years. It would allow people to send texts, pictures, and videos to 911 call centers instead of making a traditional phone call. Currently, of the 650,000 emergency calls received daily throughout the country, 450,000 come from cell phones. Facilities don’t have the capability to receive text messages, however.