Massachusetts 911 outage was not the result of a cyberattack, officials say

The outage, which was first reported around 1:15 p.m. Tuesday, was the result of a firewall, the state announced


The Massachusetts State 911 Department says it has determined the cause of a statewide outage of the 911 emergency system for multiple hours Tuesday afternoon.

The outage, which occurred around 1:15 p.m. Tuesday and was resolved by about 3:15 p.m., came as a dangerous heat wave settled in over Massachusetts and as Boston prepared to host a victory parade for the NBA champion Boston Celtics on Friday. While the system was down, people experiencing an emergency were urged to contact the direct line for their local police department, activate a firebox if one is in service near them, or go to the nearest police or fire station.



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The State 911 Department said in a statement issued Wednesday that a preliminary investigation determined that the outage was the result of a firewall, a safety feature that provides protection against hackers. The firewall prevented calls from getting to the 911 dispatch centers, also known as Public Safety Answer Points.

An initial review of the incident by Comtech, the state's 911 vendor, confirmed that the interruption was not the result of a cyberattack or hack. But they still haven't determined the exact reason that the firewall stopped calls from reaching dispatch centers. The company said it has applied a technical solution to prevent future outages.

"The Massachusetts State 911 Department is deeply committed to providing reliable, state-of-the-art 911 services to all Massachusetts residents and visitors in an emergency. The Department will take all necessary steps to prevent a future occurrence,” said Frank Pozniak, executive director of the State 911 Department. “We are grateful to everyone for their patience and cooperation during the outage.”

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu called attention to the outage early Tuesday afternoon at the beginning of her press conference with public safety officials to talk about this week's extreme heat and Friday's Celtics parade.

"Never a dull moment," the mayor said. "And we just wanted to start actually with a notification that currently the statewide 911 system is down and calls are not going through. We've been in touch with the state and with all the relevant officials to work on getting this resolved."

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu led off her news conference on the Boston Celtics NBA Championship parade with an update on the 911 phone system outage affecting all of Massachusetts. She asked Boston's police and fire commissioners and EMS chief to give updates as well. 

The outage also came up, albeit in an entirely different way, during the Mass. Department of Transportation board meeting taking place Tuesday afternoon.

"Are we getting hit by a tornado? I left my phone on the desk ... Hopefully it's not an alarm for the project," MassDOT Highway Administrator Jonathan Gulliver said when his presentation on the Allston multimodal project was interrupted by at least one phone in the MassDOT board room going off with an alert about the 911 outage.

The State 911 Department exists within the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, and is funded through a $1.50-a-month fee on all devices that can access the 911 system, like cellphones.

Over at Tufts Medical Center, officials said operations were not affected by the outage.

“Our internal emergency number for Public Safety remained active and functional during the outage and appropriate responders were able to be reached this way from within the hospital,” Jeremy Lechan, the media relations manager for the hospital said. “We are very glad to hear that the issue has been resolved and people in need outside the hospital can once again get the medical assistance they require.”

Officials at Massachusetts General Hospital also reported no problems associated with the outage, and a spokesman for the Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association said he wasn’t aware of issues.

The Massachusetts disruption caused confusion in other northeastern states, where some residents also got notifications on their phones. But authorities in Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, New York and Vermont all said their systems were operational.

“We are aware that some individuals in Vermont have received wireless notifications about the Massachusetts event,” Barbara Neal, executive director of the Vermont Enhanced 911 Board, said. “The official reason for that is unknown but it may be related to individuals having signed up for an alerting system in Massachusetts or having been at or near the Massachusetts border when the wireless alert was issued by Massachusetts.”

Several years ago, Massachusetts suffered sporadic 911 outages. At the time, it was blamed on outages from Louisiana-based CenturyLink, which affected some Verizon customers. In April, workers installing a light pole in Missouri cut into a fiber line, knocking out 911 service for emergency agencies in Nebraska, Nevada and South Dakota.

State House News Service and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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