Spurred by the Widespread
911 Network Failures After a Derecho Storm, FCC Requires 911 Service
Providers to Take Action to Provide Reliable, Resilient 911 Service
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The
Federal Communications Commission today adopted rules to help ensure that Americans’
phone calls to 911 are delivered during disasters. The rules are designed to improve 911
communications networks nationwide by requiring 911 service providers –
generally, the wireline phone companies that route both wireline and wireless
calls to 911 call centers – to take reasonable measures to provide reliable and
resilient 911 service, as evidenced by an annual certification. The FCC also strengthened its rules to ensure
that 911 service providers give 911 call centers timely and useful notification
of 911 network outages.
Today’s action is the
culmination of work that began after a derecho storm hit portions of the
Midwest and Mid-Atlantic in June 2012, bringing widespread 911 disruptions.
From isolated breakdowns in Ohio, New Jersey, Maryland, and Indiana to systemic
failures in northern Virginia and West Virginia, a significant number of 911
systems and services were partially or completely down for up to several days.
Across the storm’s path, at least 77 911 call centers serving more than 3.6
million people in these six states lost some degree of network connectivity,
including vital information on the location of 911 callers. At least 17 of these 911 call centers, mostly
in northern Virginia and West Virginia, lost service completely, leaving more
than 2 million residents unable to reach emergency services.
The FCC’s Public Safety
and Homeland Security Bureau conducted an inquiry into the 911 outages, finding
that many could have been avoided if 911 service providers had fully implemented
well-established network reliability best practices – which were developed with
and backed by industry – and other sound engineering principles. The FCC said
today that a purely voluntary approach to 911 reliability has not been
The new rules are designed
to maximize flexibility for 911 service providers and account for differences
in network architecture without sacrificing reliability. Accordingly, the rules
require service providers to certify annually that they have either implemented
industry-backed best practices or acceptable alternative measures that are
reasonably sufficient in light of their particular circumstances, so long as
they briefly explain those measures. The best practices cover three core areas:
auditing 911 circuits for physical diversity, maintaining central office backup
power, and maintaining reliable and resilient network monitoring systems. If
needed, the Bureau may follow up with service providers to address deficiencies
revealed by the certification process. The FCC will review these rules in five
years to determine whether they are still technologically appropriate,
adequate, and necessary.
In addition, the FCC
amended its rules to now give 911 service providers deadlines and other more
specific requirements for notifying 911 call centers of outages.