Tech Fail: Massachusetts 911 System Suffers Statewide Outage Caused by Malfunctioning Firewall

Boston police motorcycles
Bill Ilott/FLickr

On Tuesday afternoon, Massachusetts experienced a statewide disruption in its emergency calling system, caused by a malfunctioning firewall from the state’s 911 vendor, Comtech.

Ars Technica reports that the Massachusetts government issued a press release this week detailing the cause of the two-hour 911 outage that affected the entire state. According to the statement, a preliminary investigation conducted by the State 911 Department and Comtech revealed that the interruption was the result of a firewall malfunction. This security feature, designed to protect against cyberattacks and hacking, inadvertently prevented emergency calls from reaching dispatch centers, also known as Public Safety Answer Points (PSAPs).

Comtech, the state’s 911 vendor, has assured officials that they have implemented a technical solution to prevent such incidents from occurring in the future. However, the exact reason why the firewall blocked calls from reaching dispatch centers remains under investigation. Despite the outage, Comtech’s initial review confirmed that the interruption was not the result of a cyberattack or hack, providing some relief to concerned citizens and officials alike.

During the outage, the State 911 Department took swift action to mitigate potential risks. They alerted local law enforcement and issued a statewide emergency alert, advising residents to call their local public safety business lines directly in case of emergencies. This quick response helped ensure that critical services remained accessible to those in need.

Frank Pozniak, Executive Director of the State 911 Department, promised that the department “will take all necessary steps to prevent a future occurrence.” This commitment underscores the importance of maintaining a reliable emergency communication system for the state’s 204 Public Safety Answering Points, which collectively receive an average of 8,800 calls per day.

The incident highlights the delicate balance between implementing robust security measures and ensuring uninterrupted access to critical emergency services. As technology continues to evolve, so too must the systems that support public safety infrastructure.

This outage is not an isolated incident in the realm of emergency services disruptions. In recent years, there have been several notable cases of 911 system failures across the United States. For instance, in December 2018, a 37-hour CenturyLink outage disrupted 911 service for millions of Americans due to “malformed packets.” More recently, in February 2024, a major AT&T wireless outage caused by a botched network update led to warnings of potential 911 access disruptions.

Comtech, which has been developing, implementing, and operating Massachusetts’ secure, IP-based Next Generation 911 (NG911) system since 2014, recently announced a five-year contract extension with the state in May 2024. The company boasts over 25 years of experience in providing public safety and security technology, with service providers, states, and local jurisdictions nationwide relying on their portfolio of mission-critical products and services.

Read more at Ars Technica here.

Lucas Nolan is a reporter for Breitbart News covering issues of free speech and online censorship.


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