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Massachusetts 911 System Suffers Statewide Outage Caused by Malfunctioning Firewall

On Tuesday afternoon, Massachusetts’ emergency calling system was disrupted across the state due to a firewall failure at Comtech, the state’s 911 vendor.

Ars Technical Reports The Massachusetts government issued a press release this week detailing the cause of a two-hour 911 outage that affected the entire state. According to the statement, a preliminary investigation conducted by the state’s 911 department and Comtech determined that the outage was caused by a firewall failure. This security feature, designed to protect against cyberattacks and hacks, was inadvertently designed to prevent emergency calls from reaching dispatch centers, also known as PSAPs (Public Safety Answer Points).

The state’s 911 vendor, Comtech, assured officials that it has implemented a technological solution to prevent such incidents from occurring in the future, but the exact reason why the firewall prevented calls from reaching the dispatch center remains under investigation. Despite the outage, Comtech’s initial investigation confirmed that the disruption was not the result of a cyberattack or hack, bringing some relief to concerned citizens and officials alike.

During the outage, the state’s 911 department took swift action to mitigate potential risks by notifying local police, issuing statewide emergency alerts, and advising residents to call their local public safety lines directly if they experienced an emergency. This rapid response ensured that critical services remained available to those in need.

State 911 Department Executive Director Frank Pozniak promised that the department will “take all necessary steps to prevent future occurrences,” a pledge that underscores the importance of maintaining a reliable emergency communications system at the state’s 204 public safety answering points, which receive an average of 8,800 calls per day.

This incident highlights the delicate balance between implementing strong security measures and ensuring uninterrupted access to critical emergency services. As technology continues to evolve, the systems that support our public safety infrastructure must also evolve.

This outage is not an isolated incident in the realm of emergency service interruptions. Several notable cases of 911 system failures have occurred across the United States in recent years. For example, in December 2018, CenturyLink’s 37-hour outage left millions of Americans without 911 service due to “bad packets.” More recently, in February 2024, a botched network update caused a major AT&T wireless outage, leading to warnings that access to 911 could be disrupted.

Comtech, which has been involved in the development, implementation and operation of Massachusetts’ secure, IP-based Next Generation 911 (NG911) system since 2014, recently announced a five-year contract extension with the state through May 2024. The company boasts more than 25 years of experience delivering public safety and security technology, with service providers and state and local governments across the country relying on the company’s portfolio of mission-critical products and services.

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