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911 Outage Across Multiple States Highlights System Vulnerability

Wednesday's significant 911 outage underscored the pressing demand for enhanced modernization and regulation of the emergency system, experts in telecommunications and public safety told NBC News. On Thursday, Lumen Technologies, a telecommunications company based in Louisiana, said in a statement that "some customers in Nevada, South Dakota, and Nebraska experienced an outage due to a third-party company installing a light pole — unrelated to our services." The outage left millions in multiple states without emergency access to authorities for about 2½ hours. Harold Feld, senior vice president of Public Knowledge, a nonprofit public interest group that focuses on telecommunications and internet law, said a single pole should not be able to disable 911 in multiple states. "Everyone knows when you have a system that is critically important, that lives depend on, you don’t just have it all come down to a single fiber strand," he said.

Feld said the outages underscore the need for increasing regulation, especially at the state level, with more standards or rules “that would prevent this kind of thing from happening.” The incident also showed the need to modernize the 911 system across the country,  said David Simpson, former chief of the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau. He said 911 service providers like Lumen Technologies are required to examine their circuits supporting 911 annually “and formally attest to the FCC that all service supporting 911 answering points have circuit diversity,” as well as remote monitoring and backup power for any unstaffed circuit equipment. "If not, they must report in their attestation every instance where that is not the case,” Simpson said, referring to an FCC rule. The current system is “missing resilient backups” that could prevent outages on several levels, he said, like having more cables for path diversity and multiple telecommunications carriers, updated equipment and multiple routers. The Federal Communications Commission said Thursday it is investigating the incident.


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