This week, Falls Church Mayor Nader Baroukh expressed a very sharp public expression of dissatisfaction not only with the performance of Verizon during the derecho storm a month ago but also with the tepid explanation and lack of dedication to new protections its officials expressed at a recent regional governments meeting. We hope his comments become more and more amplified by other leaders in the region until nonchalant Verizon officials provide some better assurances of correctives.
Verizon is responsible for the region’s E911 emergency phone service, something that everyone helps to pay for (it’s a line item on your monthly phone bill). The failure of that system to function during and for days after the derecho is one of the great scandals of our time, signaling to anyone on the planet that this region is exceptionally vulnerable to any significant shock that could, effectively, shut the whole place down.
In Falls Church, the malfunction may have cost the life of one of our young citizens. Nineteen-year-old Dylan Shawn Cooper was walking to his Haycock Road home when the storm hit, and near his front door, a tree apparently toppled onto him, pulling a live power line with it. Cooper was found unconscious in the street, his arm wrapped around the power line. Desperate neighbors tried contacting E911, but could not get through. It was over 30 minutes before E911 responded.
Cooper was taken to the hospital, and died days later, never regaining consciousness. A memorial service was held for him last week.
It is not known whether a faster E911 response could have saved his life. But the whole point of the system is to enable the fastest possible response in hope of saving lives. It is irrelevant whether or not it would have accomplished this with Mr. Cooper. The entire system is set up to try.
In our view, the complete crippling of the region – not only the loss of E911, but of electrical power, water pressure, cell phone service and the Internet – for days, for the better part of a week in many neighborhoods right in Falls Church, belies a magnitude of ineptitude and worse on the part of the federal government in the years after the 911 terrorist attacks in 2001. Billions upon billions was authorized by Congress to be spent on homeland security to protect the nation from something like a 911 attack from ever happening again, or from compromising the nation’s security in any serious way.
But the June 29 derecho exposed to the world the fact that the nation’s capital, its most vital defense and intelligence institutions, and its millions of residents that provide the operational capability of those institutions, is a sitting duck.
Where are the products of those billions for homeland security? Did a dime go to under-grounding power lines feeding vital nerve centers in the region? How was any sort of regional mobilization supposed to occur had the derecho been a hostile enemy attack?