March 9, 2017–FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced today that the agency has launched an investigation into a nationwide 911 outage last night that impacted wireless AT&T, Inc., subscribers. “Every call to 911 must go through,” Chairman Pai said in a statement. “So when I first learned of yesterday’s outage, I immediately directed FCC staff to contact AT&T about it and the company’s efforts to restore access to emergency services to the American public. I also spoke with Randall Stephenson, AT&T’s chief executive officer, and stressed the urgent need to restore service and to communicate with first responders, as well as AT&T customers, about the status of operations. Additionally, I announced last night that I have directed Commission staff to track down the root cause of this outage.”
“The FCC’s public safety professionals are on the case,” said Lisa Fowlkes, acting chief of the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau. “Access to 911 emergency services is essential for all Americans, especially the most vulnerable. We will fully investigate this outage and determine the root cause and its impact.”
In a brief statement today, an AT&T spokesperson said, “We take our 911 obligations to our customers very seriously. We are taking steps to prevent this from happening again and will be sharing additional information with the FCC.” The carrier did not provide any further details, including how long the outage lasted, what caused it, and how many public safety answering points (PSAPs) were affected.
In a tweet last night, AT&T said, “Aware of issue affecting some calls to 911 for wireless customers. Working to resolve ASAP. We apologize to those affected.” A short time later, it tweeted, “Issue has been resolved that affected some calls to 911 from wireless customers. We apologize to those who were affected.”
Public safety groups said today they are pleased with how swiftly the FCC announced it was investigating the outage. “NENA applauds the FCC for their swift action to investigate yesterday’s significant and unfortunate outage,” said Brian Fontes, chief executive officer of the National Emergency Number Association. “This outage underscores the immediate need to transition America’s 9-1-1 centers to robust and resilient ‘Next Generation 9-1-1’ technology. NG9-1-1 can intelligently route around outages, redirect calls to other regions, or use backup facilities in ways that legacy E9-1-1 systems cannot.”
Derek Poarch, CEO and executive director of the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials-International, said, “APCO shares the concerns expressed by Chairman Pai and looks forward to learning the root cause and scope of this outage, in the hope that lessons learned can be gained and applied going forward. APCO also would like to commend the many 9-1-1 professionals who not only quickly communicated information and options to the public, but managed as they always do in the face of any emergency situation to continue to protect the safety of the public and first responders.”
The inability of the public to reach 911 has drawn focus from the FCC in recent years. In 2014, the Public Safety Bureau released a report that cited the spike of “sunny day” outages on 911 systems and recommended the development of best practices for the transition to NG-911 systems (TRDaily, Oct. 17, 2014). The report was prepared in the wake of a 2014 outage that affected more than 11 million people and 81 PSAPs in seven states for more than six hours. Last year, the FCC adopted an order that made “targeted refinements” to its communications network outage reporting requirements, including those involving 911 outages (TRDaily, May 25, 2016). – Paul Kirby, firstname.lastname@example.org