Police departments in multiple states report unusual outages to their 911 emergency call systems

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Police departments in several states reported bizarre outages to their 9-1-1 emergency call systems and centers on Monday, though no one has an explanation as to how the phenomenon occurred.

The Minneapolis Police Department said in a tweet that 911 centers were inoperable across the entire country, though no further information or explanation was provided.

“ATTENTION: The 911 lines are not operational nationwide. This is for phone calls and text messaging,” the department said on Twitter around 6:43 p.m. local time, adding local numbers for residents to call if they had an emergency.

Also, the Delaware State Police announced their systems were experiencing a “state-wide interruption in service,” but re-advised the system was back up a short while later, Fox News reported.

“Delaware State Police Dispatch Centers are now operational and 911 calls are being received,” Delaware State Police said in a statement. “If you call 911 and receive a busy signal or recorded message, callers are encouraged to text 911 and type your emergency in the message field or utilize the non-emergency telephone numbers.”

The Tucson (Arizona) Police Department also noted a short temporary outage.

https://twitter.com/PimaSheriff/status/1310724923304931329

News of the outage drew an immediate rebuke from a member of the Federal Communications Commission, the agency responsible for implementing all communications regulations.

“The one system we need to work all the time is 911,” FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said, calling for the incident to be investigated. “The FCC needs to get to the bottom of this now and figure out what is going on.”

It’s not immediately clear what may have caused the outage. But, Fox News reported, the various police departments reporting they were having issues regarding an ongoing outage that affected Microsoft 365 services.

Also, the city of Redmond, Wash., reported that “phones and emails are experiencing intermittent outages related to a larger Microsoft 365 outage.”

In April 2018, NBC News reported that hackers had managed to disable scores of 911 systems, noting at the time that emergency centers “remain dangerously vulnerable to criminals bent on crippling the country’s critical infrastructure.”

The outlet reported at the time:

There have been 184 cyberattacks on public safety agencies and local governments in the past 24 months, according to a compilation of publicly reported incidents by the cybersecurity firm SecuLore Solutions. That includes Atlanta, which fell victim to a ransomware attack a couple days before the one on Baltimore, scrambling the operations of many agencies, but not the 911 system.

Most attacks amount to “denial of service” — that is, hackers flood centers with phony calls.

“911 is the perfect [target] because it can’t afford to be down,” SecuLore’s CEO and president, Tim Lorello, told NBC News.

Last November, cybersecurity expert Dan Retzer outlined several steps that 911 call centers could take to shore up defenses against hacks and other attacks.

“They need to adopt protective measures, and leverage industry resources, to address their needs. Municipalities that take these issues seriously can protect their IT infrastructure and ensure that they continue to address public-safety needs every minute of every day,” he wrote.

“Dispatch-center managers need to secure assets using cloud-based tools and automation while training staff on how to recognize cyberattacks,” he added.

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Jon Dougherty

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