County Councilmembers Raise Communication Concerns at 911 Outage Briefing
The Montgomery County Council raised concerns about Alert Montgomery and communication efforts, following last month’s 911 system outage that happened at the Alternative Emergency Communication Center (AECC) located in Rockville, at today’s council briefing.
Montgomery County Councilmember Marc Elrich, chair of the public safety committee, began the meeting stating, “You simply cannot have your 911 system fail.”
On July 10th the County’s 911 system experienced an interruption of service residents who called 911 and the non-emergency 301.279.8000 phone lines experienced a busy signal. The interruption lasted two hours. Fire and Rescue units responded to two medical emergency calls during the outage, which involved two fatalities, a 91-year-old woman from Olney and a 40-year-old man from Twinbrook.
Representatives from Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Services (MCFRS), Montgomery County Police (MCPD), the Department of General Services (DGS), and the Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security Management (OEMHS) presented the council with a detailed briefing about the outage.
According to a memo sent to the County Council, 911 call operations had been transferred to the alternative location, while a new upgraded system was being installed in at the Emergency Communication Center. On July 10th the 20-year-old HVAC unit at the alternative location failed and caused the “Uninterruptable Power Source (UPS) froze up and failed to cool the room,” the memo stated.
Councilmember Nancy Navarro said that the incident was her worst nightmare come to life. “I have to confess, I usually have one reoccurring nightmare this is the one. I’m trying to call 911 and I can’t get through,” Navarro said. “This is of extreme concern for all of us here in the county,” she said.
Navarro, along with fellow councilmembers raised concerns about the time it took to alert the public about the issue. “There were many layers of failures in this particular case,” Navarro said.
Officials said that the county conducted a risk assessment and the 911 system was found to be of high risk, and was scheduled for an audit this year. Officials said the outage has fast tracked that audit.
Officials also said that community notification began first through Public Information Officers at both MCPD and MCFRS. PIO’s sent messages through social media shortly after midnight. They also notified local media outlets. An Alert Montgomery message was sent out at approximately 1:10 a.m. to 251,000 registered users. The message took more than 22 minutes to distribute.
Officials noted that departments have now created message templates and will train employees on how to send out emergency alerts more quickly. Earl Stoddard, director of OEMHS, said that the county is in the process of receiving Wireless Emergency Alert certification.” We’re one of the first jurisdictions in the country…to have access to this system. It’s an FCC and FEMA collaboration that allows priority notification across wireless networks,” Stoddard said. The alert system would notify wireless subscribers in the Montgomery County with local emergency messages, like how people receive Amber Alerts and Severe Weather Warnings.
Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett ordered a full audit of the 911 outage, which is expected to be completed by September.