COMMISSIONER JESSICA ROSENWORCELRe:
Improving 911 Reliability, PS Docket No. 13-75; Reliability and Continuity of Communications
Networks, Including Broadband Technologies, PS Docket No. 11-60.
Last night, I had the privilege of joining several hundred public safety officials to
celebrate our nation’s emergency calling system at the 9-1-1 Honors Gala. This is a great event
every year, but this is also a special year for 9-1-1 history buffs.
After all, it was 45 years ago when the first 9-1-1 call was made in Haleyville, Alabama.
And it was ten years ago when the Congressional Next Generation 9-1-1 Caucus was first
established to create a bipartisan voice to support our nation’s 9-1-1 systems. Today this Caucus
is a force for good, led by Senator Amy Klobuchar, Senator Richard Burr, Representative Anna
Eshoo, and Representative John Shimkus. It was also ten years ago when the NG9-1-1 Institute
was established—a non-profit organization that helps deploy and advance next generation 9-1-1
services across the country. But history aside, last evening was an opportunity to celebrate the
everyday heroes who run our 9-1-1 call centers, answer their phones with steely calm, and help
ensure that help is on the way.
Because that is really what this is all about. You may only make one 9-1-1 call in your
life, but as the old saw goes, it will be the most important call you ever make. You need to know
that your call will be answered.
Yet last year, when the Derecho storm struck the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic, too many
9-1-1 calls were not answered. Seventy-seven public safety answering points spanning six states
lost some connectivity. This affected more than 3.6 million people. Seventeen 9-1-1 call centers
lost service completely, leaving over two million people without access to 9-1-1.
Just after the Derecho, I visited the 9-1-1 center in Fairfax Country, one of the public
safety answering points that was unable to answer emergency calls. The head of Fairfax
Country’s Department of Public Safety Communications described an eerie quiet in the
aftermath of the storm, as the calls into 9-1-1 quickly and implausibly ceased. Something was
not right; something was clearly broken.
Which brings us to the Commission’s efforts today to fix these problems. As a result of
our investigation into communications failures during the Derecho, we now have more clarity
about what happened. We know that back-up generators and switches failed. We know that
power failures undermined monitoring capabilities. We also know that 9-1-1 centers were left in
the dark without service—and without notice.
So the proposals before us build on what we now know: the need for better back-up
power at central offices, the need for improved 9-1-1 circuit auditing, the need for more diverse
monitoring systems, and the need for more extensive reporting to 9-1-1 personnel on the front
lines, answering calls. They are commonsense solutions. They should put us on the road
toward making sure that failures like the ones we saw following the Derecho never happen again.
For my part, I want these policies put in place by the first anniversary of this storm. I
also recognize that as we move forward in this proceeding, there will be discussion about the
need to take each step proposed. There will be concerns about cost. These are fair. Debate is a
necessary—and healthy—part of our process.
But there should be no debate about why this conversation matters. Because this is not
just a conversation about technical fixes. We must never forget this is a conversation about real
people and their safety. Last night, I heard chilling stories from 9-1-1 operators at work in places
like Aurora, Colorado and Newtown, Connecticut—just down the road from where I grew up.
Last night and even now, the mention of these places conjures up difficult images. Their
memories rightfully sting. And their horror leaves us justifiably unsettled.
But in our haze of grief and outrage, we should never forget who was there to help. The
calls that came tumbling into our 9-1-1 centers after these and other incidents unleashed the best
that our public safety systems have to offer. They sent help, they offered hope, and they saved
Our rulemaking today is a small way of honoring their efforts, and a big part of making
sure that our nation’s 9-1-1 systems are dependable. It is also an essential part of making sure
that the frailties we saw in the Derecho last year are fixed and that every call to 9-1-1 is
I support this rulemaking. Thank you to the Public Safety and Homeland Security
Bureau for your work to deliver it to us today.
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