FCC wants answers from Verizon on 'blocking 911 calls'

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is asking Verizon for answers on why, according to the agency, 10,000 calls to 911 did not make it through during a snowstorm last month. 

Public safety and homeland security bureau chief Jamie Barnett wrote to Verizon senior vice president Kathleen Grillo on Thursday to say he is concerned "that this problem may be widespread across Verizon's footprint." The FCC wants Verizon "to take action to prevent future blocking of 911 calls." 

Barnett asked whether the problem can occur elsewhere along with a list of questions about why the incident occurred. He called for a response by March 10 and for a meeting within two weeks. 

"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," he said. 

The FCC's preliminary findings about the Jan. 26 incident:

"All 14 circuits in the Verizon network that properly route all wireless calls in Montgomery County failed and nine of 10 Verizon circuits in Prince George’s County failed over a five-hour period on the night in question. This resulted in approximately 8,300 blocked 911 calls in Montgomery County and 1,700 blocked 911 calls in Prince George’s County that evening."

UPDATE: A Verizon spokesman said, "Verizon understands the critical function that 911 service provides to our customers and communities, and we take any 911 service disruption seriously. So we have taken seriously the concerns about the outage that was triggered by the mass call event that occurred during the January 26th snow storm.  We have been addressing this issue directly with the counties involved, and will work cooperatively to address the FCC's questions, as well."