It was a chilling and unimaginable development for public safety officials in much of Northern Virginia. Hours into the June 29 storm that caused record havoc, the 911 system failed for about three days.
Officials held a special session Wednesday to determine exactly what went wrong.
"What happened was that, approximately eight hours after the storm ravaged our area, during which time 911 worked perfectly, 911 simply failed," said Steve Souder, Fairfax County 911 director. "It simply dropped off our screen.
Verizon officials said the problem was complicated, and so is the solution. Kyle Malady cited three issues: "We lost commercial power to a lot of elements in our network, we had widespread damage to many of those elements... and... some mechanical failure in some of our redundant systems."
Most of the hundreds of thousands of people in the affected area already were without power. They had no idea that 911 wouldn't be there if they needed it. People were advised to flag down a policeman for help.
"I have a grandma who's by herself," said one resident. "If she can't reach anybody, you know, that's a bad thing."
Experts say that even the wildly expensive effort of burying lines underground would not completely solve the problem.