DC 911 Call Center Power Outage Reveals Backup Generator Problem

The weekend power outage at D.C.'s 911 call center revealed a problem with the backup generators.

Power outages from high winds Saturday night knocked out electricity to the D.C. 911 call center about 11:25 p.m., but an official said the emergency service was never affected.

Officials believe a power surge or spike caused the backup generators to fail.

Something about the spike caused part of the fail-safe process to not work, D.C. Homeland Security Director Chris Geldart said.

"The good thing is we have so many redundancies in place with that, that it didn't cause any issues with operationally," Geldart said.

D.C. Office of Unified Communications Director Karima Holmes decided to relocate 911 services to the backup location at the McMillan Reservoir site in northwest Washington. She said 911 calls were not delayed or impacted, but 311 calls were down for about two hours.

Communication with first responders was affected by the power outage.Holmes said crews had to go back to doing things over the radio instead of using the Internet. Personnel moved back to the main building after the power was restored on Sunday.

Engineers are trying to determine why the backup generators failed and how it can be prevented in the future.

If 911 calls were to fail, there are multiple 10-digit backup numbers that would be broadcast to residents to use instead, Geldart said. 

The District is currently working on adding the ability for residents to text to 911, something being implemented in jurisdictions nationwide.

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