Strenghtening 9-1-1 Systems

Tim RieckerThis morning, Government Security News (GSN) published an article regarding the FCC‘s examination of last June’s derecho storms that severely impacted Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, DC, and Ohio.  The FCC looked into the long-lasting down time of 9-1-1 call centers in these impacted areas, provided comment, as well as recommendations – which largely are pretty sound.

If you’ve read earlier blog posts of mine, you’ll know that I more-often-than-not tend to defend utility companies.  Yes, we can all be better prepared, but I believe that sometimes the expectations are unreasonably high, especially with wide-spread disasters.   Also, utility companies are just that – companies – their primary goal is to be profitable.  With this in mind, there comes a point when the cost of mitigation may, at least in the short-term, make them unprofitable.  While in theory I would say ‘suck it up’, share holders tend not to see things that way.  So that does leave us with a bit of a quandary.

9-1-1 is an absolutely critical service.  Outages and disturbances in these systems occur every day throughout the nation, but are typically short in duration.  The derecho left 3.6 million people with interrupted 9-1-1 service, some for many days.  While there are general infrastructure issues that result from storms that can impact a utility system, this was compounded after the derecho by continued high winds for a few days, making many repairs impossible.  The FCC report cites, however, a few easy fixes that could have greatly reduced both the number of outages and the duration of many of these outages – including emergency power generators at central offices and distribution hubs.  There were also planning gaps that were discovered, that, once addressed should help reduce impacts by both number and duration.  I believe we also need to harness the technology we have to discover redundancies and back-ups that can be implemented in the even of future system failures.

Every incident is a learning experience for all involved – and hopefully even for those fortunate enough to not be involved.  The challenge is accepting these lessons learned and applying them to improve our measure of preparedness, increasing our awareness, and better enabling us to respond more effectively the next time around.

What lessons have you learned from disasters???

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