In 2014, after what we described as “frequent failures,” the FCC of a former administration attempted to change how the US 911 emergency system works, including clarifying who is responsible when multiple states lose. inexplicably the ability to dial 911 at once.
Some of that responsibility might have come in handy this week – because we still don’t know what caused the 911 outage yesterday. And it’s not clear that anything would change even if we knew.
Yesterday, 911 services were reportedly gone in at least 14 states across the country, some for an hour and a half. Police departments and public safety agencies across the country have had to assign additional numbers to call – and in some cases, notify residents do not to dial 911 just to test if the systems had started working again.
911 services are down in the city of Tucson. If you need to make an emergency call, dial 520-372-8011. We will notify you when 911 is back online. pic.twitter.com/aDfAIX3yDU
– Service de police de Tucson (@Tucson_Police) September 28, 2020
But strangely enough, the blackout didn’t seem to get as much attention and most of the usual suspects didn’t want to talk about it.
We reached out to AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon to confirm that the outage was even happening, and if so, if they could point us to the root cause. None of the three major cellular transporters would even answer the question.
The FCC did not respond to a request for comment, period.
We reached out to Microsoft as well, thinking the 911 outage might have something to do with the Azure outage earlier today. “We saw no indication that the multi-state 911 outage was the result of the Azure service outage yesterday,” the company told us.
Finally, we reached out to CenturyLink (which recently renamed Lumen, sort of) because the state of Minnesota apparently thought the ISP has something to do with this, and because CenturyLink / Lumen is known to have been involved in some major 911 failures before.
Indeed, CenturyLink / Lumen confirmed it was involved:
“Earlier this evening, a Lumen 911 supplier experienced an outage affecting a number of customers in multiple states for about an hour. All services have been restored, ”reads a statement provided to us.
But like KrebsOnSecurity reports that Lumen and his partner Intrado blame each other for the 911 breakdown, not taking responsibility themselves. As mentioned, Lumen says his “provider” suffered the outage – but Intrado is apparently telling county officials that “our 911 service provider” was the one that had the network outages.
It’s less than useful, of course, although it’s not surprising. No one wants to be the culprit. But who would even hold them accountable?
This is not the first CenturyLink / Lumen and Intrado rodeo. While AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon certainly each had their own multi-million dollar fines for dropping 911 calls, it was the same CenturyLink and Intrado that were asked to pay a record $ 16. million dollars in 2015 for leaving some 6,600 emergency calls unanswered. previous April. It was CenturyLink and West Safety Services – aka Intrado – that agreed to pay $ 575,000 for a one-hour 911 service outage in multiple states starting in August 2018.
And of course, it was CenturyLink’s nationwide 24-hour + service outage in December 2018 that wiped out 911 calls to multiple states, sparking the wrath of the FCC. CenturyLink apparently experienced several local 911 outages in Arizona earlier this year.
But while the FCC may have made a big show of accountability from CenturyLink in December 2018, it hasn’t followed through. As Ars Technica points out, the FCC investigation only resulted in a 15-page report with a few suggestions and a recall that companies like CenturyLink should follow “best practices” – there have been no fines, no orders, no disciplinary action.
Officially, the FCC does not appear to have made a statement or learned of the latest 911 outage. There is no tweet yet from FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, either.
Commissaire FCC Jessica Rosenworcel tweeted, however, suggesting that “the FCC needs to get to the bottom of this now and figure out what’s going on.”
Which, of course, suggests that the FCC isn’t doing this at all right now.