The transition to next-generation 911 (NG911) emergency services based on IP played a role in the April outage that prevented people in seven states from being able to reach emergency dispatchers, said Rear Admiral David Simpson, chief of the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau at today’s monthly FCC meeting.
Simpson also noted an increase in what he called “sunny day” 911 outages that occur for “purely technical reasons” unrelated to weather or other external events. He said there were three other major “sunny day” outages in 2014 in addition to the April outage, but there were no such outages in 2013 or for earlier years. And at a press conference with reporters after today’s meeting, Simpson said all three of those other outages were related to NG911 implementation or the TDM-to-IP transition.
NG911 provides benefits including lower costs and a wider range of capabilities, but it also has caused certain functionality to become more centralized, explained Simpson. And as functionality is centralized in just one or two locations nationwide, the nation’s 911 system becomes more vulnerable to failure at either of those points.
“It’s not NG911 itself but the technologies that have enabled [it] that are not in all cases being responsibly deployed,” said Simpson at the press conference.
Cause of 911 Outage
Michael Connelly, an attorney advisor to Public Safety and Homeland Security, provided a summary of what occurred during the April outage at today’s FCC meeting. That outage, he said, was caused by a software issue in a third-party system used in a single data center to route 911 calls to 81 public safety answering points. Although the third-party provider had a redundant facility in another part of the country, traffic was not switched to that facility until six hours after the outage began. Although personnel received an alarm when the outage began, that alarm did not have appropriate priority and therefore was not promptly acted upon.
Connelly offered six recommendations aimed at preventing this sort of situation from occurring again:
- Development of a comprehensive set of best practices as the nation transitions to NG911
- Conducting further investigation to maintain pace with evolving technologies and challenges
- Closer coordination between government and commercial entities
- All parties involved in end-to-end call completion should practice situational awareness during an outage
- The FCC should establish reporting rules for the transition and should enforce those rules as necessary
- The primary 911 provider should evaluate contractual relationships and establish mechanisms to maintain meaningful control over sub-contractors
Also at today’s meeting the FCC adopted a report and order aimed at making it easier for wireless network operators to deploy network equipment and adopted a notice of inquiry to explore the possibility of using spectrum bands above 24 GHz, sometimes known as “millimeter wave” bands, for high-bandwidth mobile service. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler in September highlighted those initiatives, aimed at enabling the wireless industry to keep pace with burgeoning demand for mobile bandwidth.