NG9-1-1 would have lessened derecho storm's impact, says FCC

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Implementation of Next Generation 9-1-1, which will incorporate Internet protocol into the emergency call system, should lessen the severity of future 9-1-1 outages such as those experienced in the wake of the June 2012 derecho storm, says the Federal Communications Commission.

In a report (.pdf) released Jan. 10, the FCC notes that 17 first responder call centers--known as public safety answering points--in three states completely lost service after the storm, affecting the ability of more than 2 million people to dial for help.

Loss of 9-1-1 was particularly bad in Northern Virginia, where PSAPs serviced by Verizon Communications in Fairfax and Prince William counties and in the city of Manassas collapsed due to company power generator failures following loss of commercial power. Fairfax County reports that Verizon-supplied data shows that nearly 1,900 9-1-1 calls in its jurisdiction went unanswered during the first 29 hours after the storm.

NG9-1-1, with its IP-based architecture, offers greater redundancy and reliability than today's standard public switched telephone network, the FCC report says. Had it been in place, it "likely could have significantly lessened the derecho's impact on emergency communications," it adds.

Among its advantages is automatic fail-over, which would eliminate the need to manually activate or deactivate 9-1-1 routes. Calls on NG9-1-1 systems can be rerouted to backup PSAPs, and telecommunication providers can connect their emergency call systems to several networks, rather than being forced to go through the local telephone exchange, the FCC notes.

PSAPs can also implement NG9-1-1 so that they have diverse IP connectivity routes, such as through the telephone and cable system and including paths such as satellites.

In a statement, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said the commission will launch a rulemaking to improve 9-1-1 reliability and will "accelerate the Commission's NG9-1-1 agenda."

For more:
- download the FCC report, "Impact of the June 2012 Derecho on Communications Networks and Services" (.pdf)
- read Genachowski's statement

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