What was behind the nationwide 911 outage? [telecom]

The MN Department of Public Safety says initial investigation shows something went wrong with one of the vendors who work with CenturyLink, the state's 911 provider.

By Sharon Yoo

PLYMOUTH, Minnesota - Operations at the Hennepin County dispatch center located in Plymouth, Minnesota are back to normal today, but yesterday evening looked quite different.

"Yesterday we were notified about a 911 disruption or outage," Hennepin County Communications Director Tony Martin said. "We didn't know if it was originally just Hennepin County."

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Why is the 911 system even configured in such a way that something could take out the whole system? I am sure certain terrorist groups are drooling over such stories. The regional 911 call centers and the software behind them should be sufficiently self-contained such that nothing could take out more than the single call center (if that). I do know they do need to be able to transfer to other centers perhaps via special connections.

(my own experience, this has not been the case. Once I called to report debris on an interstate highway. Got the local town's PD. When I explained that they transferred me to the state police, their responsibility, where I had to repeat everything. A second incident I wanted to report an erratic driver on another interstate. I got the local city police, again said it was a SP issue. Instead I got transferred to an adjacent city's PD, repeated everything, they said it was a SP issue, then got transferred again to the SP.

At least I did my small part to remedy that elsewhere, 8 years ago. In Big City, if you call 911 you get police dispatchers. For a fire (or EMT) they had to transfer you to the fire dept dispatchers and repeat everything to them. After the change the police dispatchers could enter fire calls directly into the FD dispatch system, no transfer. I did some of the work for the FD system to take the data)

Reply to
Michael Moroney


The problem here is a failure to adequately test the software updates for the 911 system. The vendor needs to devise a test bed that can simulate the workload to a Public Safety Answering Point during a disaster event. Maximal loading of the software updates prior to pushing them out for use by the served PSAPs is the only way that these failures can be slowed or stopped. After 45 years of Fire and Rescue service in a very busy combined staffing career and volunteer fire station I do know that not being able to revert back to what was working before is asking for failure.

Reply to
Tom Horne

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