Multistate 911 outage shows fragility of systems, experts say


Category:  News & Politics

Via:  perrie-halpern  •  one month ago  •  0 comments

By:   Daniella Silva

Multistate 911 outage shows fragility of systems, experts say
A major 911 outage Wednesday showed the urgent need for increased modernization and regulation of the emergency system, experts in telecommunications and public safety told NBC News.

S E E D E D   C O N T E N T

A major 911 outage Wednesday showed the urgent need for increased modernization and regulation of the emergency system, experts in telecommunications and public safety told NBC News.

On Thursday, Lumen Technologies, a telecommunications company based in Louisiana, said in a statement that "some customers in Nevada, South Dakota, and Nebraska experienced an outage due to a third-party company installing a light pole — unrelated to our services."

The outage left millions in multiple states without emergency access to authorities for about 2½ hours.

"Our techs identified the issue and worked hard to fix it as quickly as possible," Lumen said. "We apologize for the inconvenience and appreciate our customers' patience and understanding."

Harold Feld, senior vice president of Public Knowledge, a nonprofit public interest group that focuses on telecommunications and internet law, said a single pole should not be able to disable 911 in multiple states.

"Everyone knows when you have a system that is critically important, that lives depend on, you don't just have it all come down to a single fiber strand," he said.

The Federal Communications Commission said Thursday it is investigating the incident.

"When you call 911 in an emergency, it is vital that call goes through. The FCC has already begun investigating the 911 multi-state outages that occurred last night to get to the bottom of the cause and impact," Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement.

Power was reported out in Nebraska, Nevada, South Dakota and Texas and appeared to have been restored in the late evening, though it was not clear whether all those outages were tied to Lumen.

The 911 system debuted in 1968 to provide people with an easy way to dial emergency services, rather than remember or find local numbers.

But it has never been a single, unified system.

"There are over 6,000 jurisdictions for 911," said retired Rear Adm. David Simpson, chief of the FCC's Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau from 2013 to 2017. "The decisions made for equipment and budget vary from state to state to state."

Feld said, "Outages like this can affect multiple states because states, local communities can now outsource the running of their 911 systems to different companies."

Feld said outsourcing 911 systems to private companies has meant outages can hit states even if the source of a problem is miles away.

The multiple-state outage "again highlights the fact that our 9-1-1 systems are critical telecommunications services in dire need of being updated," Brian Fontes, CEO of NENA The 9-1-1 Association, a nonprofit group that focuses on 911 operations and policy issues, said in a statement.

"When outages do occur, it is important for all the responsible parties to conduct a thorough investigation to understand what happened and why, so we can learn what needs to be changed and reduce the likelihood of future outages," Fontes said.

"This incident makes it clear that Congress must fund Next Generation 9-1-1 deployment so that every state and community can better withstand disasters and cyberattacks," he said.

Simpson also said the incident showed the need to modernize the 911 system across the country.

He said Lumen Technologies' response was "not a good answer — 911 should not be unavailable over wide areas due to an issue on one light pole."

Simpson said 911 service providers like Lumen Technologies are required to examine their circuits supporting 911 annually "and formally attest to the FCC that all service supporting 911 answering points have circuit diversity," as well as remote monitoring and backup power for any unstaffed circuit equipment.

"If not, they must report in their attestation every instance where that is not the case," he said, referring to an FCC rule.

Simpson said there is a bill that comes up every year that says "we're going from this patchwork quilt of different 911 capabilities across the nation to something that is an objective, Next Generation 911 system that has common capabilities across the entire nation. Congress still hasn't passed it."

Feld said the outages highlighted the need for increasing regulation, especially at the state level, with more standards or rules "that would prevent this kind of thing from happening."

"You need backups; you need redundancy," he said.

The current system is "missing resilient backups" that could prevent outages on several levels, Simpson said, like having more cables for path diversity and multiple telecommunications carriers, updated equipment and multiple routers.

"Engineers will tell you you don't assume everything is going to be fine," Feld said. "When you build a system like this, you assume things are going to go wrong, and you build it in a way so that things can go wrong without taking down the whole system."


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