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911’s importance and vulnerability were placed in the spotlight

The nation’s 911 systems have long held a critical role as the primary communication channel between the public and first responders like police, fire and emergency medical services, but the technology and those who operate it from the country’s thousands of public safety answering points gained greater prominence this year. The pandemic arrived in the middle of a national upgrade to next-generation 911, a project converting analog communication systems to digital ones. This upgrade exposes 911 to “a very, very broad attack surface,” experts warned. And as with many other government services, some 911 upgrade projects — and even cybersecurity assessments — have been sidelined in anticipation of budget shortfalls. A 911 outage in September that affected 14 states, caused by a networking glitch at the company Intrado, underscored the constant possibility of further disruptions to the nation’s primary emergency communications channel.

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