Faulty firewall blocked 911 calls throughout Massachusetts for two hours

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A 911 vendor’s malfunctioning firewall caused a statewide outage in the emergency calling system in Massachusetts on Tuesday afternoon, the state government said. A Massachusetts government press release issued yesterday said the state’s 911 vendor, Comtech, “has advised State 911 that they have applied a technical solution to ensure that this does not happen again.”

“A preliminary investigation conducted by the State 911 Department and Comtech determined that the outage was the result of a firewall, a safety feature that provides protection against cyberattacks and hacking,” the announcement said. “The firewall prevented calls from getting to the 911 dispatch centers, also known as Public Safety Answer Points (PSAPs).”

Comtech’s initial review “confirmed that the interruption was not the result of a cyberattack or hack,” but “the exact reason the firewall stopped calls from reaching dispatch centers remains under review,” the state said. A full review is continuing.

The 911 outage lasted two hours. Shortly after it began, the State 911 Department alerted local law enforcement and issued a statewide emergency alert to residents advising them to call their local public safety business line directly if they had an emergency.

“Although some calls may not have gone through, the system allows dispatch centers to identify the phone number of callers and return those calls. The Department has not received any reports of emergencies impacted during the interruption,” the Massachusetts announcement said.

State 911 Department Executive Director Frank Pozniak promised that the department “will take all necessary steps to prevent a future occurrence.” Massachusetts has 204 Public Safety Answering Points that received an average of 8,800 calls, combined, per day in 2023.

Comtech announced a five-year contract extension with Massachusetts in May 2024. “Since 2014, Comtech has been developing, implementing and operating a secure, IP-based NG911 [Next Generation 911] system for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,” the vendor announcement said. Comtech says it has provided public safety and security technology for over 25 years and that “service providers, states, and local jurisdictions nationwide rely on our portfolio of mission‑critical products and services.”

911 disruptions happen occasionally and are sometimes caused by broader outages in phone networks. A 37-hour CenturyLink outage in December 2018 that disrupted 911 service for millions of Americans was caused by “malformed packets.” In February 2024, a major AT&T wireless outage caused by a botched network update led to warnings that 911 access could be disrupted.

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