911 service provider Lumen blames outage on installation of light pole

ByAndy Rose, Melissa Alonso, Dalia Faheid, Dakin Andone and Sean Lyngaas
Thursday, April 18, 2024
911 emergency number in at least 6 cities in four states
A large-scale outage impacted residents' ability to call the 911 emergency number in at least six cities in four different states

The outage of 911 systems in several states Wednesday evening was caused by the installation of a light pole, according to Lumen, a company that supports some of those systems.

"On April 17, 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," Lumen Global Issues Director Mark Molzen told CNN Thursday morning.

An outage was also reported in a fourth state, Texas. Molzen said Lumen - a networking company that provides enhanced 911 services to local communities in multiple states - does not provide 911 services in Texas.

The outage lasted less than three hours, according to Molzen, who said the company "worked hard to fix it as quickly as possible."

"We apologize for the inconvenience and appreciate our customers' patience and understanding," Molzen said.

Service had been largely restored by Thursday morning, hours after agencies in the four states announced outages in multiple cities, with some urging residents in need of assistance to either text 911 or call using a landline. The outages had been largely addressed within hours, however, including in cities like Sioux Falls and Rapid City, South Dakota, and Las Vegas.

As of Thursday morning, some agencies had yet to confirm service had been restored, including those in Del Rio, Texas, and Douglas and Chase counties, Nebraska - the former of which encompasses Omaha.

The Federal Communications Commission confirmed on X that it was "aware of reports of 911-related outages and we are currently investigating."

Agencies point to texts, landlines as workarounds during outages

The outages surfaced Wednesday evening, as agencies like the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department announced disruptions hindering their ability to communicate with residents, who were urged to text 911 instead of calling.

While the department initially said it had no timeline for restoring service, the interruption had been resolved within about two hours.

According to its post on X, authorities were able to see mobile numbers that had contacted 911, allowing them to reach back out to callers to provide assistance. During the outage, calls made from landlines during the outage were not working, nor were calls to its non-emergency line.

The South Dakota Department of Public Safety also announced service had been restored for the South Dakota 911 system after earlier saying in a statement it was "aware of a 911 service interruption throughout the state."

Similarly, the department said during the outage that texting 911 was still "operating in most locations," otherwise residents in need could contact emergency services using non-emergency lines.

Officials in Sioux Falls and Rapid City also reported the resumption of 911 services on their respective Facebook pages. The Rapid City Police Department urged residents to "only utilize 911 services only if an emergency situation exists." The City of Sioux Falls said residents could again call or text 911 in case of emergencies.

In Texas, the City of Del Rio Police Department said it was aware of an outage with a "major cellular carrier" affecting residents' ability to reach 911, emphasizing "the issue is with the carrier, and not the City of Del Rio systems." Residents were told to contact 911 using a landline "or another carrier" if unable to reach emergency services on their cell phones.

Portions of Nebraska, including Chase County, reported outages as well. Officials in the state's capital city of Lincoln, however, told CNN their 911 system was operational and not affected.

"911 is down across the State of Nebraska again for all cellular carriers except T-Mobile," Chase County said in a Facebook post. "Landlines can still get through to 911."

"Dial 911 on a mobile device, and we will be able to see your number and will call you back right away. 911 calls from landlines are NOT working at the moment," the department initially wrote on Facebook. "There is no estimate for service restoration."

Outages highlight potential vulnerabilities

While Lumen's statement indicated the cause of the outage was not malicious, the service interruptions raise questions about the fragility of the nation's 911 infrastructure, particularly in light of a Department of Homeland Security assessment last week that found emergency services are vulnerable to cyberattacks - and that the exploitation of personal data stolen during those ransomware attacks "poses a persistent criminal threat to victims."

According to the assessment, such attacks have disrupted 911 networks and local police departments. It also highlighted that emergency service systems are often "interconnected," which makes it more difficult to protect them from cyberattacks.

Once ransomware actors have hacked systems, the assessment also found they then "routinely leak, sell, or further exploit a victim's data" for criminals to use for other crimes.

Bulletins like the DHS assessment are distributed to local law enforcement and companies that run critical infrastructure.

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