Strengthening 911 emergency service

By: Maureen Davis

911 is a lifeline for people in distress. Those three simple numbers have brought help to countless Americans for nearly half a century.

It takes an ecosystem of first responders, call takers and communications companies to ensure that – when a person dials 911 – the call is delivered to the right 911 call center and first responders are dispatched.

Verizon is one of the nation’s largest 911 network service providers, handling around 480,000 calls each day for more than 1,200 emergency 911 call centers, or “PSAPs.”

Designed to be resilient, Verizon’s 911 network is built with a great deal of redundancy so that if a disruption occurs in one part of the network service still will be delivered.

In late June 2012, the Mid-Atlantic region was hit by a derecho – an intense storm that caused widespread power outages and damage. 911 service in parts of Northern Virginia was negatively affected after this storm, and that’s unacceptable.

We immediately began a comprehensive investigation of the derecho’s effects on our network and 911 services, and we have acted aggressively and decisively to address issues we found as part of that investigation.

For example:

  • We voluntarily conducted back-up power system audits of all critical Verizon 911 facilities in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C., to identify and resolve any issues, and we’re now doing the same for our critical 911 facilities across the country.

  • We’ve improved our procedures to identify power issues and get back-up generators on line more quickly in crises.

  • We’re diversifying our network monitoring system so that the loss of any single location has less of a critical impact on our overall monitoring capability.

  • We’ve improved communications with 911 center directors and other government officials during emergencies.

  • We’re applying lessons learned from our derecho investigation throughout our service area.

Hurricane Sandy and the early March winter storm coined “Saturn” by The Weather Channel were strong tests of our significant progress to date, and our systems performed well: Back-up power worked smoothly when commercial power was lost, and we communicated with public safety officials early and often.

Our ongoing effort to strengthen our 911 network is part of a multi-year network modernization program to increase the resiliency of our infrastructure across the country.

I – and thousands of my Verizon colleagues across the country – will continue to work daily to improve our network's resiliency. We will continue to apply lessons learned and collaborate with the public safety community, as well as local, state and federal government officials.

Our goal is to ensure that citizens receive the very best 911 service possible.

About the author(s): 
Vice President of Network Operations for the Mid-Atlantic Region