from the person-you-are-trying-to-reach-is-not-available dept.
Brian Fung reports at the Washington Post that earlier this year emergency services went dark for over six hours for more than 11 million people across seven states. "The outage may have gone unnoticed by some, but for the more than 6,000 people trying to reach help, April 9 may well have been the scariest time of their lives." In a 40-page report, the FCC found that an entirely preventable software error was responsible for causing 911 service to drop. "It could have been prevented. But it was not (PDF)," the FCC's report reads. "The causes of this outage highlight vulnerabilities of networks as they transition from the long-familiar methods of reaching 911 to [Internet Protocol]-supported technologies."
On April 9, the software responsible for assigning the identifying code to each incoming 911 call maxed out at a pre-set limit; the counter literally stopped counting at 40 million calls. As a result, the routing system stopped accepting new calls, leading to a bottleneck and a series of cascading failures elsewhere in the 911 infrastructure. Adm. David Simpson, the FCC's chief of public safety and homeland security, says that having a single backup does not provide the kind of reliability that is ideal for 911. “Miami is kind of prone to hurricanes. Had a hurricane come at the same time [as the multi-state outage], we would not have had that failover, perhaps. So I think there needs to be more [distribution of 911 capabilities].”