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Communications Wireless Networking

Verizon Drops 10,000 911 Calls During Blizzard 300

mschaffer noted a Bloomberg piece saying "US regulators said Verizon Communications Inc.'s networks may have dropped a 'truly alarming' number of wireless emergency calls during a snow storm last month, and asked the carrier to investigate." The article says 10,000 calls failed to connect during one blizzard. Can't wait to see what all those AT&T migrators think.
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Verizon Drops 10,000 911 Calls During Blizzard

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  • Obligatory (Score:5, Funny)

    by inKubus (199753) on Tuesday February 22, 2011 @12:42PM (#35281202) Homepage Journal

    911, Can you hear me now?

    • by jeffmeden (135043)

      "I hold it true, whate'er befall;
      I feel it, when I sorrow most;
      'Tis better to have called and dropped...
      ...Than never to have called at all"

      -Alfred Tennyson

  • by raitchison (734047) * <> on Tuesday February 22, 2011 @12:43PM (#35281224) Homepage Journal

    Seriously, 10,000 911 calls is a huge number, even if 911 is being abused there were no doubt a lot of calls from people trapped in their homes (for people who have ditched their landlines) or cars. Imagine an elderly person in their home when the heat goes out, in those cold temperatures that can become life threatening very quickly.

    Things like this are one of the main reasons we pay ~$25/mo for a land line despite having 5 active cell phones in the house on 2 separate networks (not to mention a few inactive ones that can still call 911) I know that if the excrement hits the air circulator that I will have more options to reach people than finicky mobile networks.

    • by h4rr4r (612664) on Tuesday February 22, 2011 @12:49PM (#35281312)

      I lived for two weeks in the buffalo winter without heat when i first moved in. With some blankets and a sleeping bag you can do fine.

      • by raitchison (734047) * <> on Tuesday February 22, 2011 @12:53PM (#35281368) Homepage Journal

        You might or I might be fine, but I was talking specifically about elderly people without a lot of stamina, especially problematic for a widow who's never had to worry about how to deal with the cold in her entire lifetime.

        In general, many people have become soft thanks to modern life.

      • by corbettw (214229)

        Sleeping bags and blankets are fine, but hookers really help you keep warm when it's cold out. Though granted, that's only for an hour (unless you're Mr. Moneybags or something).

    • If your emergency plan for a SHTF scenario is 'dial 911' I would respectfully submit that your plan is a bit deficient.
      • Perhaps it's just a small part of my plan, I've got a small generator, stored water + non-perishable food, not to mention camping gear, even if I don't need to call 911 it might be helpful to reach out to loved ones.

        • Good to hear. The reason I mention it is that it seems like most people today have a 'somebody else will save me!' attitude and end up being very, very disappointed by the results.
          • And this is the real point. 911 is OK for individual emergencies - as a mechanism to deal with massive problems, it's never going to work. Landline or wireless. Verizon should indeed look at how their system responded to the stress but society needs to get a clue - you can't always call daddy and have them pull your unprepared ass out of the ice. Yes, it can be a real problem for older / younger / disadvantaged folks but as a number of posters have demonstrating, survival in place isn't all that hard.
        • by scubamage (727538)
          While I don't have a generator, I've got enough magnets and spare wire around that I could rig together a simple magneto if I am truly desperate for power and have some free time (something I think I'll have in abundance should I truly get stuck inside). I have a number of oil lamps + spare oil for light, I always have large bundles of dried oats, rice, and beans on hand. It won't be fancy, but its protein that'll keep your body from breaking down vital organs and carbs to keep you from dissolving too much
        • I may have to keep several gallons of beer on hand. Of course, light pale ale, the good stuff, minimum hops, maybe 2.5% alcohol, the kind of shit you can hammer back like crazy and get "a little buzzed" from. Strong beer is not what I want; besides, I dislike it. It stores well, it's easy to handle, and enjoyable, and safe.
      • No kidding...went 6 days with no power (from the city) in US-KY in the ice storm that hit a few years back.

        At no point did it occur to me to dial 911...and we had from ages 2 to 70 in the house. I saw an article that said most people only have 3 days of food in their house...I have more than that in just soup.

        By planning ahead, we had enough kerosene and food to get us through. I would add that if your plan doesn't include having some supplies on hand before the first flake falls, it really isn't a
        • by Lumpy (12016)

          Most settlers in the USA died the first winter by being stupid and not having enough supplies. Some made it the first winter by eating all their animals after they either died from lack of food (forgot to harvest enough hay for the cow and horses) or because they froze to death because they failed to build a shelter for the animals.

          Being stupid is normal for humans... the difference is that modern life has removed the stupid=dead from the equation for most of the population.

    • by GooberToo (74388)

      Things like this are one of the main reasons we pay ~$25/mo for a land line despite having 5 active cell phones in the house on 2 separate networks (not to mention a few inactive ones that can still call 911) I know that if the excrement hits the air circulator that I will have more options to reach people than finicky mobile networks.

      Keep in mind, they said, "Verizon", not, "Verizon Wireless." That likely means your land line would have had its 911 calls dropped too.

      Like you, emergencies are the only reason I still have a land line. Its a good bet to hedge. But even land lands can fail in a variety of ways. On the other side of the spectrum are those who have services like Vonage. When the power is out, so is your phone. So its really the worst or false security.

      • by h4rr4r (612664)

        The last time we had a real ice storm in my area Power and phone failed at the same time. When big trees break and take the lines right off the poles that happens. Cell phones were working again before land lines in many areas. Phones are not security in bad weather.

        • by GooberToo (74388)

          Cell phones were working again before land lines in many areas. Phones are not security in bad weather.

          The problem with cell phones is they are far, far more likely to reach capacity limits before land lines. Not to mention they require charging. And when towers go down, the phone goes into maximum TX power to reach a tower, which can drain a battery in hours, leaving you with no phone at all, even after high priority items like towers are brought back on line.

          While not always true, as your story illustrates, land lands have a very long, long history of reliability in the worst of conditions. This is not ev

          • by scubamage (727538)
            All I can say is CB/short wave radio ftw.
            • by GooberToo (74388)

              I completely agree. Its really sad the ham operator is going the way of dinosaurs. In the case of emergencies, they have a long and proud history of really pulling through for their communities.

            • by Lumpy (12016)

              even 2 meter will work better than a cellphone and a landline in a real emergency situation.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        What good is 911 in an emergency? No...I'm totally, utterly serious. For certain definitions of emergency...

        In the event, *YOU* have an emergency that isn't impacting everyone else...okay, you're paying $25/month for what amounts to insurance that you have a land line to dial in if the cell network fails. Fine. Valid case.

        In the event there is a local/county/state/national emergency--and you dial 911. Congrats, you're emergency caller number ... let's say 35 in a list of a thousand. The cops will be w

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by GooberToo (74388)

          Some of what you said makes sense. Lots of what you said doesn't. Worse, some of what you said is nothing but ignorance.

          Phone lines are used to established contact with the outside world. Sometimes its used to get help. Other times its used to assure loved ones you're okay.

          You're also down playing the likelihood of cell going down versus land line. I every major emergency I've been in, either wireless went down or was so beyond capacity it was impossible to place a call. Receiving a call are iffy, but possi

          • by drinkypoo (153816)

            The only major emergency to ever really impact me was the Loma Prieta quake. I lived in Santa Cruz at the time. I kept my land line, but I lived maybe six blocks from the CO.

            On the other hand, there's phone lines down right now on Cobb Mountain due to snow-related failures.

        • by h4rr4r (612664)

          You can dial 911 without service. By law all phones connected to the network must be capable of dialing 911.

      • by Lumpy (12016)

        911 is useful for three things.

        1 - calling about a home invasion,theft, noisy neighbor.
        2 - medical emergency.
        3 - structure fire that is too big for you to handle.

        Any other use is being lazy. during and after a blizzard because your power is out or you have no heat is NOT a 911 emergency.
        Plus, if you can't handle 1 or 2 in a dire emergency on your own... you are very poorly prepared. Know CPR, Know advanced First aid and have a full field guide sized first aid kit. And have a shotgun at home. Yes some me

      • The quote from Bloomberg in the headline actually did say Wireless (emphasis mine):

        "US regulators said Verizon Communications Inc.'s networks may have dropped a 'truly alarming' number of wireless emergency calls during a snow storm last month, and asked the carrier to investigate."

        That said, if you have a land-line with Verizon FIOS, you would also be S.O.L. if the power went out for any length of time as the fiber gear has a battery backup that is only good for about five hours. In fact, I used this to my advantage during one of this winter's storms where we lost power and sought out shelter at my fathers' house. I would call my land-line from my cell and if the call went directly to voice mail, I k

    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      You can dial 911 on any land line without service. If your shit hits the fan scenario is to call 911 you are screwed. Lots of other folks will be calling at the same time.

    • This call volume doesn't make sense to me. Doing some admittedly very rough estimations: The entire population of the Washington DC metro area is 5.4 million. Now figure all the people that were grouped, either at home or in a car or stuck at work, and I suspect you'd have closer to 2 million groups. Some number of those are going to have a landline available so call it 1.8 million groups. If we assume there is only a single cell phone available per group (obviously a poor assumption) and the fact that

      • I suppose the other questions to be asking are:
          - how much impact did the blizzard have on signal quality?
          - how good was that signal quality to start with?
          - how many of those calls were reattempts?
          - how good is the insulation in the homes in that area?

      • by Arccot (1115809)

        This call volume doesn't make sense to me.

        It seems pretty high to me, but one thing you should probably include is repeated calls by the same person failing, if the problem was severe in particular areas.

    • Yep. I know it's old-fashioned but in my whole life I've never seen the landline go out, even during blackouts. Plus it's good for internet backup. (When the DSLAM died, the netzero/dialup still worked.)

      >>>we pay ~$25/mo for a land line

      Wow. I only pay $10 for unlimited, while my parents have $5 per-call billing (they don't call out much). You may be paying more than you need to.

      >>>(not to mention a few inactive ones that can still call 911)

      I have an old analog phone from 1999. You th

    • by Solandri (704621)

      Things like this are one of the main reasons we pay ~$25/mo for a land line despite having 5 active cell phones in the house on 2 separate networks (not to mention a few inactive ones that can still call 911) I know that if the excrement hits the air circulator that I will have more options to reach people than finicky mobile networks.

      I can't say if this is true everywhere, but the "inactive" landlines in the houses I've lived at still gave a dial tone. You can still use them to call 911 and toll-free (1-

    • by kyrio (1091003)
      Granny has a land line.
    • by Duradin (1261418)

      "Things like this are one of the main reasons we pay ~$25/mo for a land line despite having 5 active cell phones in the house on 2 separate networks (not to mention a few inactive ones that can still call 911) I know that if the excrement hits the air circulator that I will have more options to reach people than finicky mobile networks."

      Landlines have very stringent QoS and uptime requirements. With the move to cell phones I'm surprised the ebil gov't hasn't put these job killing requirements on this no-lon

    • by afidel (530433)
      Very quickly? I turned off my heat on Sunday and the temp only dropped 1.5 degrees F per hour while I was away. It would become a problem in a day but a call not completing 'right now' isn't a big deal for heat. A MUCH bigger problem would be someone shoveling their driveway and having a heart attack.
    • Let's say the power goes out... and you need to make a phone call. How many people today have phones that do not require power (or rather take their power from the phone line)?

      If you have a cordless phone you need power, not for the handset but for the base. When the time comes you'll wish you kept your $10 "Walmart Special".

    • Or save that $25/month over a few years and just buy yourself a backup furnace. You honestly pay $300 a year "just in case" there is a catastrophic failure of all 5 of your cell phones? For that matter you could buy a CB, Ham, or Shortwave radio, or various other devices other than a worthless land line that will probably also be out during a SHTF moment. And how many times over say the last 3 1/2 years has that happened to you where your land line was the only thing that could save you? Was it worth over $
    • by adisakp (705706)
      I wonder how many 911 and 311 calls were dropped during the Chicago Blizzard we just had. Of course, in order to get dropped you would have had to get thru first. I tried calling to report a car accident I saw and I got a busy signal and couldn't get through -- this was on AT&T and it was more than a full 24 hours after the Blizzard.
    • by Gordonjcp (186804)

      Things like this are one of the main reasons we pay ~$25/mo for a land line

      The land lines are the first to go out in high winds or heavy snowfall. During the winter I had extremely unreliable landline service, but no problems at all with my mobile. The problem is that telephone exchanges don't have much backup power, and if the lines themselves fail it doesn't even matter how long the exchange will run for.

  • Today's top story - adverse weather conditions can negatively affect cell phone reception. In other news, high winds can knock down telephone poles and prevent phone calls.

    Clearly we need some sort of communication method that is immune to weather, but what could it possibly be?

  • by buzzsawddog (1980902) on Tuesday February 22, 2011 @12:52PM (#35281360) Journal
    Not all dropped calls are created equally... Some areas are just not designed to get cell coverage. It almost makes me wonder if some one is needing to use 911 if they are often in that area. Also what is the ratio of dropped calls to calls made? 10,000 out of 10,000 would be an alarming rate but what about 10,000 out of 1,000,000. How many dropped calls are customer induced? This article tells us nothing...
    • by mschaffer (97223) on Tuesday February 22, 2011 @01:58PM (#35282280) []

      Kathleen M. Grub
      Senior Vice President
      Public Affairs, Policy & Communications
      Verizon Communications
      1300 I St. NW, Room 400W
      Washington, DC USA 20005

      Re: Failed 9-1-1 Calls During January 26, 2011 Snowstorm

      Dear Ms. Grub,
      The FCC has received reports that during the snowstorm that hit the Washington D.C. region on January 26, 2011, approximately 8,300 wireless
      9-1-1 calls to the Montgomery County Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP), routed over the Verizon network, were not connected, and an additional 1,700
      wireless calls to the Prince George's County PSAP were not connected. I know that you will agree that any 9-1-1 call which is not connected can have serious
      consequences, but the large number of missed 9-1-1 calls on January 26 is truly alarming. I therefore request that Verizon provide an explanation of the causes
      of this and similar failures, provide Verizon's assessment of the possibility of occurrence in other locations and describe what actions Verizon is taking to
      prevent recurrence of these problems.

      Here is a synopsis of what we understand so far. Through our initial discussions with various parties, including representatives of Verizon, we have
      learned that the Montgomery County PSAP has fourteen trunks that handle wireless calls, seven each from the Rockville and Hyattsville Selective Routers.
      The trunks from these Selective Routers to the PSAPs are maintained by Verizon (not Verizon Wireless), and there are separate trunks for wireline, wireless and
      VoIP calls. At approximately 5:15 p.m. on January 26, Verizon's system automatically took one of the wireless 9-1-1 trunks out of service. It is our
      understanding that this was not an overload. We understand that it is normal in large-scale emergencies for the call volume to exceed the trunk capacity, in
      which case calls will be blocked until another trunk opens up. In this instance, however, the Verizon system took each of the fourteen trunks handling wireless
      calls out of service sequentially so that they could not receive any more calls. By 8:45 p.m., the problem had cascaded to the other thirteen 9-1-1 trunks handling
      wireless calls, so that all of the trunks handling wireless 9-1-1 traffic in Montgomery County were taken out of service by the system.

      These trunks have working alarms, but Verizon did not notify the PSAPs of the failure after the alarms went off. The Montgomery County PSAP
      recognized the problem just prior to 11:00 p.m. and notified Verizon. By 11:15 p.m., Verizon had placed all the trunks back into service.

      Similarly, eight of the ten trunks that serve wireless calls for the Prince George's County PSAP were taken out of service automatically by Verizon on
      January 26 by approximately 8:30 p.m. A ninth trunk was taken out shortly thereafter. Four were restored by 10:30 p.m.; all trunks were finally restored by
      approximately 11:00 p.m.

      It is not clear what caused these individual trunks to be taken out of service. Your experts have postulated that the increased call volume resulting
      from the snowstorm created a timing problem on the trunks which caused them to be automatically taken out of service. However, the Private Branch Exchange
      (PBX) in the Montgomery County PSAP is a relatively new CS1000E, which has the speed and capacity to handle the number of calls that were being routed.
      The Prince George's County PSAP's PBX is older, but since the PBX has fewer trunks connected to it, the PBX should be able handle the call volume. The slow
      response of the PBX's does not appear to be the cause of the failures.

      I would note that the events of January 26 are not unique and that other similar 9-1-1 outages have occurred recently in the region. On December 17th,
      2010, the Prince George's County PSAP and on July 25, 2010, the Montgomery County PSAP exper

  • by aburnstine (579050) on Tuesday February 22, 2011 @12:59PM (#35281462)
    It wasn't Verizon Wireless that dropped the calls, it was Verizon Landline that lost 14 CAMA trunks used by ALL wireless carriers. Also, the calls weren't dropped, they got busy signals. Bad, but different and comparing Verizon Wireless to AT&T Wireless are irrelevant to this story.
  • AT&T does that on almost every clear day, in the Northeast, between 12 p.m. and 5 p.m. EST.
  • Disconnect v Drop (Score:3, Insightful)

    by UninformedCoward (1738488) on Tuesday February 22, 2011 @01:06PM (#35281574)

    TFA explains first that 10000 calls were dropped but the investigation showed that it was 10000 calls failing to connect. Isn't this two completely different situations? The first being the customer connecting then being disconnected and the second never actually connecting. I could see someone failing to connect at all then attempt to dial multiple times in quick succession...

  • My impression listening to this boil up in the local media, is that the issue was not just dropped cellphone calls on one cellphone carrier, but rather the routing and concentration of 911 calls into several of the 911 call centers. Essentially the 911 call centers "phone company" is Verizon and some SNAFU between Verizon and the call center was resulting in dropped calls. This is not any new technology problem, going back to the creation of 911 the original PBX's simply melted under any intermittent high
    • by inKubus (199753)

      There's no real excuse for this anymore, other than the local carrier (verizon in this case) skimping on hardware. I mean how hard is it to stack a digital trunk? Not hard. But the problem is, like you say, 911 is for personal emergencies and people think they should call 911 in the event of widespread emergencies, which isn't going to help much. The emergency response system is not designed to handle massive events, it costs too much and it wouldn't add much value. In a widespread emergency, you might

  • I wonder why they bothered putting 10 000 911. "Roughly 10 million" probably would have been fine.

  • an interesting would be neat to see from a technical standpoint what happened, what broke down, what worked, and how the cellular network can be protected and enhanced in the future to make sure this doesnt happen. could open source technology have maybe provided a better solution too?

    the thing to remember is this is news for nerds, and stuff that matters. so the summary can be completely disregarded after its title as the author flagrantly touted a bit of bias at the end that makes
  • Can't wait to see what all those AT&T migrators think.

    I wonder why all those calls went through the Verizon network. Could it be that AT&T doesn't have reliable service in that area to begin with?

  • by roc97007 (608802) on Tuesday February 22, 2011 @02:17PM (#35282550) Journal

    that it's still better than AT&T. If I drop a call, I can retry. If I got no bars, I can't try at all.

10.0 times 0.1 is hardly ever 1.0.