January Snow Storm Exposes Flaws Ideal for Terrorist Attack

10:55 PM, Feb 16, 2011   |    comments
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WASHINGTON, DC (WUSA) -- Not a month has passed since a  January 26 snow storm crippled much of the Washington Metro area. Now, among other flaws a failure in communication with 9-1-1 calls is coming under the criticism of many including officials with the Federal Communications Commission.

Various jurisdictions including DC, and Montgomery County are reporting that during the height of the storm, many 9-1-1 emergency calls made by cell phones went dead. The callers heard busy signals, and in other cases, nothing at all. Emergency officials say the disruption in communication was caused by Verizon wireless trunk lines that went down as a result of an extremely high call volume and snow damage to actual phone towers and lines.

Jamie Barnett, the chief of the FCC public safety and homeland security bureau said that problem may be occurring nationwide.

In Washington, a local anti-terrorism expert says failed 9-1-1 calls are a clear weakness that could be exploited by those wanting to cause us harm.

"We still don't have the communications systems we need with ordinary people. The system is going to go down if it gets overloaded. That's just a fact,"  Neil Livingstone said. "We should be looking at snow storms as an opportunity to test and perfect our systems. If we can't handle a snow storm, there is a very good likelihood that we can't handle a terrorist attack, and that's the problem."

Another example of public safety vulnerabilities exposed during the snow storm, he said, is the massive grid lock that congested roads and streets throughout Washington and surrounding cities. He said that is a clear indication of how chaotic an evacuation may be in the event of a catastrophic event. According to Livingston, that's something else that is of interest to terrorist.

While emergency agencies work to solve the problem of 9-11 calls, Livingstone told 9NEWS NOW, "It's not a matter of if, but a matter of when" about the possibility of terrorist striking again. He said Washington remains a top target.

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