The thing about backup power generators is that we commonly don't know how well they work until we actually go to use them. If the backups aren't tested routinely, and are later discovered to not work, then it's about the same effect as not having a backup at all. For a 911 call center, that's an emergency all its own, and the Washington D.C. 911 call center had just that emergency itself the night of April 2, according to a report from local TV NBC 4.
Saturday was a day packed with high winds for large parts of the country, with gusts passing 60 miles per hour, and rain, snow, and even thunder on hand in certain areas. Power outages were also part of the picture, including in Washington D.C., where the call center lost power after even its backup generators failed. Officials noted that the service was never actually affected by the outage, and that it was likely a power surge or a spike that caused the generators to fail.
The Office of Unified Communications (News - Alert)' director Karima Holmes made a fairly simple decision to relocate operations to a separate backup location at the McMillan Reservoir, evidence that the system has several backup options available to it, including a slate of 10-digit numbers that would have taken 911's place for the interval. Text-to-911 service is also in the works as a further backup. Engineers are currently examining the back-up system, and determining where changes can be made to improve the system down the line.
This is the kind of situation that illustrates the importance of backup systems, particularly when it comes to that oh-so-necessary function of power generation. Minuteman power systems can be particularly helpful here, providing that brief bridge of emergency power that helps users save work and shut down systems properly. For those short outages—or those power surges—it can even allow a user to carry on with a work day as if nothing ever happened.
It also illustrates how important backup systems are in general. Note the response at the 911 call center. It had grid power, of course, but it also had backup generators, a complete backup site, a set of 10-digit numbers to replace 911 outright...all of these together made for a nearly-impenetrable operation that keeps emergency services available through all but the worst circumstances. If there were actually circumstances that rendered all of these inoperable, there would likely be worse problems than whether or not 911 could be called.
Government efforts have a reputation for incompetence and waste, but in this case, it was a very well set up operation that was ready for even the worst circumstances man or nature could bring into play. The rest of us, meanwhile, got an excellent look at how backup systems can help keep those vital systems running, whether it's a backup power system, or something else entirely.