Here’s a chilling example of why you need to be prepared to survive on your own, at least temporarily, if help can’t get to you. Ryan Knutson explains the largest ever cyber attack on the 911 emergency system. The attack paralyzed 911 call centers across the country, sowing chaos among operators.
For at least 12 hours on Oct. 25 and Oct. 26, 911 centers in at least a dozen U.S. states from California to Texas to Florida were overwhelmed by what investigators now believe was the largest-ever cyberattack on the country’s emergency-response system.
Thousands of 911 calls piled up as the attack ricocheted across the U.S. The exact number isn’t known. In Surprise, Ariz., near Phoenix, at least 174 calls poured in from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. that Tuesday. During the same hour the day before, that number was 24.
At least 600 calls hammered 911 operators in and around Fort Worth, Texas, throughout the night of the cyberattack.
Federal and state officials have worried that America’s aging 911 system is vulnerable to hackers. The October cyberattack confirmed those fears and sent investigators scrambling to answer two questions: Who launched it? And why?
The emergency-response system fields an average of 240 million calls a year, according to a trade group. It’s not a single 911 system but roughly 6,500 separate answering centers run by local authorities with a hodgepodge of technology. Some centers can receive text messages. Almost none can pinpoint the precise location of wireless callers.
As few as 420 of all the 911 centers in the U.S. had implemented a cybersecurity program as of 2015, officials at the Federal Communications Commission reported to Congress last December. In 38 states, no money was spent in 2015 on cybersecurity for 911 centers, the report said.
“I don’t want to be alarmist, but it’s an emerging crisis,” says retired Rear Adm. David Simpson, who oversaw emergency management and cybersecurity at the FCC for about three years during the Obama administration.
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