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Two Years Ago: Waking Up in the Aftermath of the Derecho Storm

Posted 11:48 a.m.

Two years ago today, many of us woke up to no power, spotty cellphone service, 9-1-1 problems, downed trees and a host of other complications as the result of a derecho storm.

broken power line

Broken power lines in Fairfax County as a result of the derecho storm in 2012.

We continue to talk about the derecho storm two years later as it impacted many aspects of our emergency preparedness and response efforts. And we continue to conduct exercise drills so we’re better prepared:

We are preparing for the next weather event or emergency:

What preparations have you made?

We Need Everyone to Prepare

During widespread events such as the derecho, the government alone can’t respond immediately to long power outages, downed trees, hurricanes or people stuck in transit, especially across a county that’s 400 square miles.

To help, we’ve developed 30 easy ways for you to prepare, including:

  • Having cash and medicine on hand
  • Determining how much water you need
  • Two ways to get out of your home, workplace or faith community
  • Digital preparedness

Digital Preparedness

Digital preparedness is increasingly important and after the derecho, power and cell service were interrupted. The Virginia Department of Emergency Management created this quick visual to help us think about digital preparedness:

digital preparedness tips

Our new Fairfax Alerts system is now available, too. Please sign up for this new system so you can be informed of weather alerts and other critical information.

A Word About 9-1-1

One of the major impacts from the derecho was the inability to call 9-1-1. In this video, Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova discusses some of the changes made with Verizon, the region’s 9-1-1 carrier.

Derecho: One Year Later

Posted 4:13 p.m.

This happened one year ago:

Overnight June 29, 2012, into the early morning hours of Saturday, June 30, Fairfax County and the National Capital Region learned first-hand what a Derecho storm could do to our community.

Just after midnight in Fairfax County, there were thousands without power, hundreds of trees down, roads were closed, the county’s 9-1-1 center was affected by a power loss at a Verizon facility and a state of emergency was declared for Virginia and Fairfax County.

tree damage from derechoNot only did the storm cause havoc when it hit, but many suffered through extreme heat without electricity for several days.

As we reflect on our experiences from that time, it’s also a good reminder that we need to be prepared at all times for any type of emergency or weather event.

Fairfax County Preparation

Since the Derecho, the county has taken numerous steps. Our Board of Supervisors has been involved collectively as well as individually in their districts promoting emergency preparedness.  Our emergency management office created an online disaster damage database to allow county residents to report damage caused by emergencies like the derecho, as well as hurricanes, tropical storms, earthquakes, fires, snow or other disasters.

Through a survey of residents and businesses, the county has improved our communications outreach. And our 9-1-1 and public safety officials submitted official comments to the Federal Communications Commission’s Derecho report and were involved with regional work on the issue with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

Listen as Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova discusses progress with Verizon since last year:

What You Told Us

After the storm last year, we conducted a survey about communications. Nearly 6,000 respondents answered questions and generated nearly 18,000 individual comments, which provided us with some great insight for future emergencies. Here’s a snapshot of the results:

Derecho storm survey infographic

What You Can Do to Prepare

As we enter the summer season, which can bring extreme heat and severe thunderstorms, here’s a four step plan of action to take to prepare for the next weather event:

  1. Buy flashlights and extra batteries this weekend so you’re ready if you lose power. You may also want to consider purchasing a generator in case you lose electricity for extended periods.
  2. Sign up for emergency alerts, including severe weather alerts, that can be delivered to you by email and text.
  3. Become digitally prepared. As the survey shows above, many of you will be dependent on your mobile device for information, so download our app and follow our digital tips.
  4. Put together a plan. “Planning” often times doesn’t seem important or perhaps you think it’s too hard to do. Start with the Ready NOVA Emergency Preparedness Planner, a free, online tool that makes it easy to put together an emergency plan for your family.
    • Be sure to include plans for the most vulnerable in your family or neighborhood. If there are access or functional needs, register with us so we can contact you directly after an incident.
    • And don’t forget plans for your pets. Try to think of places they can go, supplies they need and more. Pets are such an important part of many of our lives, but they need plans, too.

Planning and preparing doesn’t have to be hard or time consuming or expensive. As you’re enjoying your weekend and the upcoming July 4th holiday, take a conscientious effort and set aside time to follow these four ideas and more.

Whatever it takes… make the time and take the steps to ensure that you and your loved ones are safe when the next emergency strikes our community.

Fairfax County Responds to the FCC Report on the Derecho-related 9-1-1 Outages

The Federal Communications Commission today announced plans to launch a rulemaking to strengthen the reliability and resiliency nationwide of 9-1-1 communications networks during major disasters.

The widespread outages and disruptions to 9-1-1 services in the Midwest and mid-Atlantic regions  as a result of the 2012 derecho storm impacted more than 3.6 million people and led to the in-depth FCC inquiry into what went wrong, and what steps should be taken to better ensure public safety. This inquiry included an in-depth investigation, public comment and analysis culminating in the report, “The Impact of the June 2012 Derecho on Communications and Services: Report and Recommendations.”

“… the derecho provided a snapshot of the reliability and readiness of a portion of the nation’s communications infrastructure in the face of unanticipated disasters – and it revealed considerable flaws in the resiliency planning and implementation of the primary 9-1-1 network providers in the affected region,” according to the report.

“Here’s the bottom line,” said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski. “We can’t prevent disasters from happening, but we can work relentlessly to make sure Americans can connect with emergency responders when they need to most.”

Fairfax County Response to the Report

The June 29 derecho storm hit our community hard. From 7:36 a.m. until 3 p.m. on June 30, 9-1-1 service was completely out; for the next three days, service was sporadic. As a result of this critical outage, Fairfax County submitted official comments to the FCC investigation detailing what happened, suggestions for Verizon to improve its service and exhibits to show supporting documentation/actions.

“This report validates Fairfax County’s strong concerns about Verizon’s performance following last year’s derecho,” said Sharon Bulova, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. “It is essential that public safety communications services function at the highest level without interruption. The kind of breakdown that the FCC report addresses must never happen again.”

“Fairfax County is pleased that the FCC so quickly investigated this event and issued its report a short six months later,” said Steve Souder, director of the Department of Public Safety Communications, Fairfax County’s 9-1-1 Center. “A person may only need to call 9-1-1 once, but it could be the most important call of their life. 9-1-1 must be available to all residents at all times regardless of weather conditions. The inability of our residents to be able to contact 9-1-1 for emergency services is unacceptable.”

About Fairfax County 9-1-1

The Department of Public Safety Communications (DPSC), also known as Fairfax County 9-1-1, is a nationally recognized public safety communications center, the largest in the commonwealth of Virginia and one of the 10 largest in the United States. DPSC receives approximately 1 million calls requesting public safety service per year and dispatches units of the Fairfax County Police Department, Fire and Rescue Department and Sheriff’s Office. In addition to Fairfax County, DPSC is the designated 9-1-1 public safety answering point (PSAP) for the towns of Herndon and Vienna and the city of Fairfax.

Approximately 30 percent of 9-1-1 calls are received from traditional wire line phones, 69 percent from wireless/cellular telephones and 1 percent by Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephones. Fairfax County 9-1-1 is an accredited 9-1-1 center for emergency medical dispatch with the Virginia Office of Emergency Medical Services and is a National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) 9-1-1 Call Center Partner. Learn more at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/911/.

Our Official Comments to the FCC about 9-1-1 Outage

Posted 8:44 a.m.

9-1-1 call center floor

Our 9-1-1 center received more than 874,000 calls in 2011.

The June 29 derecho storm hit our community hard. One major issue was the loss of 9-1-1 service. From 7:36 a.m. until 3 p.m. on June 30, 9-1-1 service was completely out; for the next three days, service was sporadic.

As a result of this critical outage, Fairfax County submitted official Comments to the Federal Communications Commission detailing what happened, suggestions for Verizon to improve its service and exhibits to show supporting documentation/actions.

You may read our official Comments on the FCC website (PDF).

We are pursuing this life safety issue from many angles including this report to the FCC and regional work through the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

As our report declares:

“In short, the ferocity of the derecho does not explain the 9-1-1 outage. Instead, its relevance is as a reminder of the need for resilient and reliable 9-1-1 service. During and after a storm, and in any emergency or disaster, the loss of the public’s ability to contact emergency responders is most profoundly felt. Families in darkened homes crushed by fallen trees, motorists unable to get through roadways blocked by downed electric power lines, elderly residents in care facilities without power in temperatures over 90 degrees, and any other citizens in need of emergency services must be able to call 9-1-1 to seek assistance.”

For more details about our community’s critical 9-1-1 emergency service, view our Department of Public Safety Communications 2011 annual report (PDF) for call volume, trends and other data.

Take the Emergency Information Survey

Have you taken our emergency information survey yet? We want your input! 

As part of our review of the June 29 derecho storm, we’re asking for your help in completing a short survey. The survey focuses on a few key areas: 

  • Tools (such as CEAN) that you use to access emergency information. 
  • Non-government resources (such as media) you access for emergency information. 
  • County response to the June 29 derecho storm. 
  • Ways to improve information delivery, especially during power outages. 
  • Personal preparedness. 
  • And if you own a business, we have a set of questions for you. 

Here’s the survey link: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/fairfaxemergencyinfo 

Thank you in advance for taking a few minutes to complete this important survey so we can learn from you and adapt our response for future incidents.