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???

The 2-1-1 Advantage During Disasters

I’m currently involved in efforts in central New York to bring 2-1-1 into the area.  2-1-1 is a nationally recognized and standardized information and referral system for public services.  Citizens can dial 2-1-1 (or reference their area’s 2-1-1 website) and obtain information on any day regarding services available to them for a variety of needs from government and local organizations, particularly health and human service related needs.

One of the strongest supporters of bringing 2-1-1 into the area is the county Department of Emergency Services – which oversees 9-1-1.  Especially during times of major emergencies and disasters impacting the area, 2-1-1 can relieve the 9-1-1 center of those calls which are important, but not life threatening emergencies.  The 2-1-1 center can be provided, directly from service providers, the Emergency Operations Center, or other authorities information on evacuations, sheltering, emergency food and water, points of distribution, traffic and school closures, crisis counseling services, volunteer opportunities, and other information.

California 2-1-1 indicated that during the San Diego wildfires of 2007, 2-1-1 provided information and support to more than 130,000 residents in a span of five days, including over 41,000 calls alone on one of these days (they averaged about 5,000 calls a day during ‘normal’ non-disaster operations).  This information, and more, is cited in a 2-1-1 after action document they published titled ‘Trial By Fire’.

Support a 2-1-1 system in your area!