Remember Last Year’s Derecho – Prepare for Strong Storms, Power Outages

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As detailed in a report by the FCC in January of this year, in June 2012, portions of the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States experienced a fast-moving, destructive windstorm called a derecho, resulting in twenty-two deaths and left millions without electrical power. Unlike hurricanes and superstorms, which are generally well-forecast, derechos are more like earthquakes, tornadoes, and man-made events for which there is little-to-no advance notice and opportunity to prepare.

Now, in June of 2013, we know that there will be fast-moving, strong storms across the Midwest and Northeastern United States, which could replicate the weather conditions of last June.


According to MarketWatch, Weather forecasters have been warning that this rare weather phenomenon, which last year left a 700-mile trail of damage across the Midwest and mid-Atlantic, this time could hit a swath of states from Iowa to Maryland starting Wednesday.

How bad can it get? Wind gusts of 91 mph were recorded at the Fort Wayne International Airport in Indiana during last year’s June “super” derecho storm.

Forecasters warned that power outages could also be a result —  3.7 million were left without electricity in the middle of a heatwave after last year’s storm. The June 2012 derecho also killed 22 people, including an elderly lady sleeping in her bed when a falling tree crashed into her home. Tornadoes that have pummeled the Midwest this year have already killed 56 this year.

Referring again to the FCC Report:The 2012 derecho severely disrupted 9-1-1-related communications. Seventy-seven 9-1-1 call centers (also known as “Public Safety Answering Points” or “PSAPs”) serving more than 3.6 million people in six states lost some degree of connectivity, including vital information on the location of 9-1-1 calls, mostly due to service provider network problems. From isolated breakdowns in Ohio, New Jersey, Maryland, and Indiana, to systemic failures in northern Virginia and West Virginia, 9-1-1 systems and services were partially or completely down for up to several days. Seventeen PSAPs in three states lost service completely, affecting the ability of more than 2 million people to reach 9-1-1 at all.

Even in the context of a storm like the derecho, a large-scale failure of communications – particularly 9-1-1-related communications – is unacceptable, and action must be taken to prevent similar outages in the future. To this end, at the direction of Federal Communications Commission (“FCC” or “Commission”) Chairman Julius Genachowski, the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau (“PSHSB” or “Bureau”) conducted an inquiry into the causes of the communications failures that resulted from the derecho and ways to prevent them during future emergencies so we can make the public safer. The Bureau’s inquiry included extensive review of confidential outage reports, public comments and related documents, as well as interviews of many service providers and PSAPs, equipment and backup power vendors, and public safety and community officials.

The complete report may be found here: FCC Derecho Communications Report

Recommendations in the FCC Report for critical communications should be taken in to consideration by businesses, schools and others in the possible path of these storms:

Central Office Backup Power:

  • The derecho experience makes clear how important it is for the provision of emergency service and reliable and resilient communications to ensure that providers maintain robust, resilient backup power in central offices, supported by appropriate testing, maintenance, and records retention.

Diversity of Monitor and Control Links:

  • The derecho makes clear how vital it is for a provider’s network operations center to have diverse monitor and control links and capabilities throughout the network to ensure network reliability, resiliency, and rapid recovery.

Reminders from Firestorm:

  • Protect Employees: allow employees to leave early and work from home as able.  Prepare to shift work as possible as many may experience power outages and be unable to connect with systems and technologies needed to work.
  • Consider how work will be conducted if power and communication outages are extended over a long period.  Read our related articles from last year’s event: Derecho Hits Home, Cooling Centers, Why Measure Organizational Resiliency and Why PS-Prep Makes Sense
  • As storms approach, do not attempt a mad dash for home – find shelter and stay sheltered until given an all clear that storm has passed.  Downed power lines and flooding are the greatest threats.

Prepare, but don’t panic

  • Secure all loose items outside; Grills, patio furniture, umbrella, planters, garden gnomes, all become projectiles – bring all objects inside or securely tie down.  For businesses and Corporate Parks, trash receptacles, outside common area seating, etc. must be secured or stored.
  • Charge cell phones.  Fill car with gas.

  • Wear protective, practical footwear in case you have to walk through broken glass or debris.

  • Make plans in case you lose power for an extended period of time.

  • Keep a very close eye on the Storm Prediction Center and your local National Weather Service office.

  • Please contact Firestorm if you have concerns or questions
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