Unlike Verizon, which the Post found often didn't know about 911 outages until being told by local officials, "Frontier has been working with us and informing us when there's a problem," Emrick said. He said Frontier notifies 911 any time there's a telephone outage that involves more than 200 customers.
County officials got their first taste of potentially disastrous problems with the 911 center in August 2008, when a massive explosion at the Bayer CropScience plant in Institute so overloaded 911 lines that callers couldn't get through. Also during that disaster, emergency officials discovered that an automatic ring-down system that was supposed to call county residents in the event of an emergency didn't work.
Although Carper said any large disaster or emergency is likely to overload phone lines, that failure "woke me up."
County emergency planners thought they were ready for anything, but following the Bayer explosion they revamped response plans, corrected problems with the ring-down system and built even more redundancies into the 911 system. "We've gone through a lot of evolution," said Carper.
"It's improving every year," echoed Emrick.
The preparations apparently have paid off. In July, a lightning strike from one of the thunderstorms following the June 29 derecho made a direct hit on the 911 center, knocking out power to the facility. But 911 service was unaffected. Calls were almost immediately rerouted to a fully staffed alternate site in downtown Charleston.
Rutherford, who was elected Kanawha County sheriff last month and will take office in January, credits the foresight of the Kanawha County Commission and the commitment of local emergency officials in keeping the 911 center operating under the worst of conditions. "They're not reactive, they're proactive," he said.
Reach Rusty Marks at rustyma...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1215.