Sprint Wireless leaders said they will put new measures in place to prevent another outage that prevented customers last month from dialing 911 on their mobile phones.
Brian Hedlund, a Sprint Wireless representative Brian Hedlund, told the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) said last week a defective part prevented Sprint Wireless from sustaining wire line service during a PEPCO power outage Aug. 16.
Hedlund said Sprint had “redundancy,” or alternate power sources, in case there was a power failure. He said such an incident is unlikely to occur but Sprint needs to be ready in case it does.
“This particular switch failure was a very unusual circumstance,” Hedlund said.
Sprint spokesperson Lisa Dimino said a switch, or multi-floor device that enables the wireline and mobile services work, failed after the tertiary, or third, backup power failed.
“The backup worked, there was a part issue with the fuel pump that would provide us the additional fuel (from) underground,” Dimino said.
Hedlund said the problem could be traced to a device that pumps reserve fuel from a location underground to the generators powering the switch during the outage.
Hedland said employees will inspect switches more often to catch problems before the backup system is needed; and Sprint sent spare fuel pumps to other locations with similar switch setups within the D.C. area system.
“Now that we know that there had been an issue with that particular part (we’re sending backups),” Dimino said.
Montgomery County Council member Roger Berliner (D-1), who chairs the Council of Governments, said Sprint officials should have inspected the generators and reserve power supply devices more frequently.
“Your backups have to be on par with your main generators; they can’t just be ignored,” Berliner said. “In this instance they really didn’t do their due diligence to ensure that the backup was always in (working condition).”
Berliner and Freudberg agreed Sprint needs to improve its preparation for similar emergencies.
“I do think Sprint is taking it seriously. I think they realize they need to tighten up,” Berliner said. “I think they are committed to tightening up, and I think there’s more work to be done with our 911 directors.”
Back on Aug. 16, a transformer underground caught fire and stopped Pepco from being able to supply power from several of its customers in downtown D.C.
Sprint is one of Pepco’s clients that lost power due to the fire.
First, Sprint used generators to supply power to its main multi-line switch. Then the fuel for the generators was running low, so Sprint tried to route reserve fuel located underground to the generators using a pump, but that pump was defective at the time of the outage.
Hedlund said Sprint management also had to worry about the switch suffering heat damage.
“We took steps to shut the site to preserve the equipment to make sure (constant supply of power),” Hedlund said.
This resulted in the wireline services being turned off for some customers, including Montgomery County residents and people in some areas of Virginia.
Dimino said part of what took so long for some customers to be able to dial wireline phone numbers was the fact that restarting a switch takes several hours.
“As soon as the switch was up again, traffic immediately began to be re-routed,” said Dimino, later adding, “some 911 (calls) started to be able to go through.”
Stuart Freudberg, who attended the meeting and who is the COG deputy executive director, said Sprint tried to re-route the wireline services to a different Sprint switch but not all the calls were redirected.
“They made some effort to route, re-route calls and my impression was it didn’t work as well as they had expected and they’re addressing that as part of their changes,” Freudberg said.