derecho storm swept through the City of Fairfax and the metropolitan Washington area. Everyone's power is back up, phone service (including 911) is restored and we are now turning our attention to the response and what the storm left in its wake.
First, let me commend the wonderful work by our City of Fairfax team. Our staff performed so well and helped so many under tremendous pressures. From our police to fire departments and our public works crews to the great leadership of our City Manager Bob Sisson, all are to be commended on a job well done. While the storm has passed as has most of the clean up, please be sure to thank our folks when you see them.
Second, while not always popular with everyone, Dominion did a solid job of restoring power to the City of Fairfax. We had about 10,500 customers (out of 11,000) without power the Saturday morning after the storm hit. That following Monday morning, we were down to about 785 customers in the entire City that were without power. While the number did fluctuate and not everyone had power till Thursday (including Council member Ellie Schmidt), it was impressive nonetheless that so many got it back so fast when you compare to what was happening in Maryland where there were still thousands upon thousands who needed power back.
But now we turn our attention to what we can do better, particularly with Verizon. In my opinion, Verizon failed in two significant ways:
1. Complete 9-1-1 system outage - As was described during a Council of Governments meeting I attended, Northern Virginia's 9-1-1 system is like the hub and spoke of a bike wheel, with Verizon's 9-1-1 call center hub being in Arlington and the spokes being the jurisdictions it serves. Calls go in and out of the hub, relayed quickly to provide emergency services. Well, the hub got knocked out during the storm and the back-up power systems failed. When that happened the 9-1-1 system went kaput. That's unacceptable. People rely on 9-1-1 service and if it isn't available then the public is at risk.
2. Lack of redundancy in phone options - On top of the 9-1-1 system being out for several days, if you were a Verizon Fios customer and had all of your services (tv, phone and internet) bundled through Fios (which is generally the case for most people), you had no way to contact the outside world or get calls if you were without electricity. Why? Well, Fios runs on electricity and without it your phone won't work. So, no electricity, no mobile signal ... no way to phone for help. That is yet another public safety problem. Frankly, it's pretty sad that the copper landline technology invented in the 1870s is the most dependable technology in an age of Twitter and Facebook. But it is and I think we need to look at finding a way to have a "dual line" system of copper and Fios so there is redundancy. If nothing else, Fios needs to be proactively telling customers that they have the option of keeping the copper wire landline.
The Federal Communications Commission, Virginia's State Corporation Commission and the Council of Governments have all launched investigations into what happened and how we can prevent another 9-1-1 outage and also ensure better communications with customers. The City will be helping in these investigations any way it can. We need to find solutions to ensure the public has reliable access to communications and if anything else, this storm showed, that we don't have that just yet. Look forward to turning this situation into an opportunity to do better.