The June 29 "Derecho" storm brought significant damage and power outages to the Mid-Atlantic region. It also brought a number of high-profile 911 outages, which have attracted the FCC’s attention. This week, the Public Safety Bureau launched a broad investigation into the Derecho events.
In the wake of the Derecho, news media reported outages in the 911 system in several counties in Northern Virginia and an West Virginia. The Public Safety Bureau quickly announced that it would begin meeting with carrier representatives, public officials, and others to investigate the outages. (This was similar to the Public Safety Bureau’s reaction to Verizon 911 outages in 2011.) Now, the Bureau has expanded its inquiry with an 8-page Public Notice seeking comment on the "reliability, resiliency and availability of communications networks in times of emergency." The Public Notice was accompanied by a last-minute addition to the agenda of yesterday’s FCC’s Open Meeting to discuss the inquiry. Four of the Commissioners released statements praising the Bureau’s inquiry.
The Public Notice suggests that the FCC is approaching the Derecho from a rulemaking perspective, rather than an enforcement perspective. That’s great news for Verizon and Frontier Communications, of course, as the two local telephone companies providing services in the areas hit by the outages. (Again, this is similar to how the Bureau approached the 2011 Verizon outage. The Maryland PSC investigation of the same outage, by the way, has stalled. No orders have been entered since the October 2011 staff recommendation that we discussed.)