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Investigation into regional 911 failure widens

Wednesday - 7/11/2012, 6:14pm  ET

Hank Silverberg, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - A number of local and federal agencies are investigating Verizon's system failure that left more than a million people without 911 emergency services after the June 29 storm.

Verizon's technical failure of both the emergency system and other phone outages are now being investigated by both the Federal Communications Commission and Virginia's State Corporation Commission, which regulates utilities.

The 911 system that is run by Verizon did not work for much of June 30 and July 1 as millions of local residents dealt with the aftermath of the ferocious derecho that devastated the region's power grid and blocked roads with downed trees.

The Council of Governments (COG) will also be conducting an investigation into the system failure. Falls Church member David Snyder says more than the emergency system was affected.

"Our water system had a telemetry system that was Verizon-based," says Snyder. "That went down, which meant we had to physically monitor our pumping stations and our tanks."

A large number of customers in Falls Church had to boil water for several days due to power outages at the pumping station.

Verizon is also being criticized for not communicating well with the public, local governments and the media. Verizon's Kyle Malady says that will change.

"We were not sending the right information out to the right people," he says.

He says the company now needs to let customers know what's happening to the network.

The 911 outage was caused by power loss at the Arlington-based control center, according to Verizon. When the center lost power, a battery backup kicked in, but when it ran down, a diesel generator and back-up generator failed to work.

The COG board passed two resolutions Wednesday calling for a special task force to look into the 911 failure and how the power companies responded to the storm.

Chairman Sharon Bulova of the Fairfax Board of Supervisors requested the task force. She says the emergency system failure has broader implications for the entire region.

"Both the feds and the state have this issue on the radar screen right now and this is exactly the time when COG I think, and our local jurisdictions can have the best impact," she says.

The issues revolving around the company's lack of communication will also be part of the investigation.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)