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FCC Acts to Ensure Reliability of Calls to 9-1-1 During Emergencies

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Released: March 20, 2013


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Federal Communications Commission
445 12th Street, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20554
This is an unofficial announcement of Commission action. Release of the full text of a Commission order constitutes official action.

MCI v. FCC. 515 F 2d 385 (D.C. Cir. 1974).



March 20, 2013
Rochelle Cohen



WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Federal Communications Commission today proposed action to improve the
reliability and resiliency of America’s 9-1-1 communications networks, especially during disasters, by
ensuring that service providers implement vital best practices in network design, maintenance, and
operation. The Commission also proposed amending its rules to clarify how service providers can more
effectively and uniformly notify 9-1-1 call centers of communications outages and cooperate to restore
service as quickly as possible.
In a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking adopted today, the Commission moved forward to implement four key
recommendations for strengthening 9-1-1 service made by the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security
Bureau. The Bureau’s recommendations, contained in a January 2013 report, resulted from an in-depth
inquiry into the widespread 9-1-1service failures that occurred after a derecho storm hit portions of the
Midwest and Mid-Atlantic in June 2012.
A significant number of 9-1-1 systems and services were partially or completely down for several days after
the derecho – from isolated breakdowns in Ohio, New Jersey, Maryland, and Indiana to systemic failures in
northern Virginia and West Virginia. In all, 77 9-1-1 call centers serving more than 3.6 million people in
these six states lost some degree of connectivity, including vital information on the location of 9-1-1 calls.
Seventeen 9-1-1 call centers, mostly in northern Virginia and West Virginia, lost service completely,
leaving more than 2 million residents unable to reach emergency services for varying periods of time.
Unlike hurricanes and superstorms, which are generally well-forecast, derechos are more like earthquakes,
tornados, and man-made events for which there is little-to-no advance notice and opportunity to prepare.
As a result, the derecho put a portion of the Nation’s communications infrastructure to an unexpected test,
revealing significant vulnerabilities in the design and maintenance of 9-1-1 networks. The Bureau found
that most of the failures would have been avoided if the network providers that route calls to 9-1-1 call
centers had fully implemented industry best practices and available industry guidance.
With today’s action, the Commission is seeking comment on the most effective approaches for
implementing the recommendations in the Bureau’s report. Specifically, the Commission is seeking the
best ways to ensure that service providers:

Periodically audit 9-1-1 circuits for physical diversity

, which will improve network reliability
and resiliency by helping to identify and correct single points of failure;


Maintain adequate central office backup power

, such as generators and battery backup systems,
supported by appropriate maintenance, testing, and records retention; and

Maintain reliable and resilient network monitoring systems

to provide accurate situational
awareness during communications outages.
The Commission put forth a range of possible approaches for implementing these recommendations,


– where the Commission would require service providers to periodically report on the
extent to which they are voluntarily implementing critical best practices or complying with
standards established by advisory bodies or requirements established by the Commission;
Certification – where the Commission would require providers to certify periodically that their
9-1-1 network service and facilities meet specified criteria;

Reliability requirements

– where the Commission would specify minimum requirements for 9-1-
1 communications reliability; and

Compliance reviews and inspections

conducted by the Commission to verify that 9-1-1 service
providers are following certain practices or adhering to certain requirements.
The Commission also posed a range of questions regarding the extent to which 9-1-1 service providers
implement existing best practices, the incentives most likely to ensure that they do so in the future, and the
costs and benefits of ensuring that best practices are implemented in each area. Whatever approach is
ultimately adopted must account for differences in service providers’ networks and support the ongoing
transition from today’s legacy 9-1-1 system to a Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG9-1-1) system, the Commission
In addition, the Commission is considering clarifying its current rule that requires service providers to
notify 9-1-1 call centers of significant communications outages. To provide service providers with greater
specificity about their obligation, the proposed rule would require them to notify 9-1-1 call centers of
outages immediately, by telephone and in writing via electronic means, with critical information.
Today’s action builds on prior Commission efforts to ensure that the public has access to a reliable, state-of-
the-art 9-1-1 communications system. Most notably, the Commission is working to promote the
deployment of NG9-1-1, which offers greater resiliency during disasters and enables public safety
responders to receive more information – text, photos, video, and data – to help them assess and respond to
emergencies. The Commission has also taken action to spur the uniform availability of text-to-9-1-1, a
major milestone in the transition to NG9-1-1.
Action by the Commission March 20, 2013, by Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FCC 13-33). Chairman
Genachowski, Commissioners McDowell, Clyburn, Rosenworcel and Pai. Separate statements issued by
Chairman Genachowski, Commissioners McDowell, Clyburn, Rosenworcel and Pai.
PS Docket No. 13-75
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