Megastorm Highlights Need for Reliable Phone Service


The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will soon launch new rules to strengthen the reliability and resiliency of the country’s 911 communications network during major disasters. The Commission was moved to act after a massive derecho—a sudden, fast-moving, destructive and sometimes deadly storm—swept across the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic last June.

An immediate study of the storm, “Impact of the June 2012 Derecho on Communications and Services: Report and Recommendations,” released in January, found that a number of preventable system failures had caused major disruptions between communications providers and 911 PSAPs during and shortly after the storm. Because of these disruptions, 79 PSAPs were partially or completely unavailable to 3.6 million Americans, in some areas for several days; 22 people died unnecessarily, the report says.
In Ohio, New Jersey, Maryland and Indiana, some degree of connectivity was lost, including information on the location of 911 calls, mostly due to service provider network problems. In northern Virginia and West Virginia, 911 systems and services were only partially on or completely down for up to several days, the report found, while 17 PSAPs in three states lost service completely, affecting the ability of more than 2 million people to reach 911.

Among the report’s recommendations on what should be required of communications systems carriers to improve the infrastructure:

  • Maintain adequate central office backup power
  • Have reliable network monitoring systems
  • Conduct periodic audits of 911 circuits
  • Provide more specific guidance as to the level of information that communications carriers should include, such as information provided in notifications to PSAPs

The FCC also encourages the deployment of Next Generation (NG) 911, which offers advantages over the current 911 system that could have significantly reduced the storm’s impact on emergency communications. The lack of services and needless deaths were caused in large part by a lack of planning and system failures in affected states, according to the report.

The report is available here.


Fusion Centers Seek EMS Participation

The campaign to include EMS providers among fusion center stakeholders continues to expand. Owned and operated by state or local entities with federal support in the form of personnel, training, technical assistance, security clearances and access to federal technology and grant funding, fusion centers help to collect, analyze and disseminate any threatening information they receive.

Realizing that EMS providers may come across critical information when serving their communities, about a year ago, the Office of Health Affairs—which acts as a gateway to EMS for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)—launched a program designed to encourage interaction between EMS and fusion centers. Just after the turn of the year, the DHS, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Justice, published a two-page brochure called “Resources for Emergency Medical Services and Fusion Center Collaboration.” The new one-page document was developed for the EMS community to highlight the importance of their engagement and information-sharing with the fusion centers. The brochure explains how the centers work with law enforcement, public health workers and others, as well as how EMS workers can get involved. It also contains links to information and publications online, as well as contact information to people knowledgeable about the program.

View the brochure here. The Fusion Center home page at DHS is here dhs.gov/state-and-major-urban-area-fusion-centers.

HHS Issues SCBA Rule

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has amended requirements for self-contained breathing apparatus by allowing for changes to service-life indicators or warning devices. These indicator alarms are built into a respirator to alert the user that the breathing air is nearing depletion.

In this final rule, published in the Jan. 14 Federal Register, HHS incorporates public comment presented by stakeholders on the proposed rule. The HHS revises the current standard employed by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to allow greater flexibility in the setting of the indicator alarm to ensure that the alarm more effectively meets the different protection needs of diverse work operations, according to the HHS.

The final rule sets a minimum alarm point at 25 percent of the rated service time and allows the manufacturer to offer a remaining service life set point at higher values appropriate to the purchaser’s use scenario. The rule became effective Feb. 13.

While the National Fire Protection Association’s Standard 1981 requires that the indicator alarm be set at 33 percent, the HHS determined that specifying a minimum setting of 25 percent and allowing manufacturers to offer different alarm settings according to purchasers’ needs will result in an alarm that may offer greater protection for users. The requirement for continuous alarming is intended for open-circuit, demand and pressure-demand units only, and manufacturers must identify the indicator setting on each unit.

The detailed final rule is here.

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