911 Outage ≠ The Purge

December 28, 2018

On and off for the last 24 hours, CenturyLink has been experiencing some technical difficulties.

Down Detector’s Century Link Outage Heat Map

As shown in the image above, reports from Down Detector indicate the issue is widespread and affects a significant percentage of the USA, including my home in the Pacific Northwest, and extending to other communities such as Albuquerque, Boise, Chicago, Cincinnati, Dallas, Denver, Phoenix, Portland, and Los Angeles.

I’m not entirely clear on the causing factor at this point, but scattered reports gathered via social media platforms indicate it’s affecting phone and internet connections and, most seriously, 911 lines.

CenturyLink engineers have identified a network element that was impacting customer services and are addressing the issue in order to fully restore services. We estimate services will be fully restored within 4 hours. We apologize for any inconvenience this caused our customers.

— CenturyLinkHelp Team (@CenturyLinkHelp) December 28, 2018

I first became aware of the problem about 24 hours ago, and since then, I’ve watched with increasing interest as what started as intermittent and localized outages have, at the time of this article going to publish, spread to the current nationwide level.

Suffice it to say this has been inconvenient for most, and while I have no specific example, I’m sure at least one person has seen their lives seriously impacted by the outages due to an inability to call 911 for emergency assistance.

Local and state emergency management agencies, in conjunction with police, fire, and 911 call centers, have initiated, at least in Western Washington, their reverse 911 systems to provide their affected population with non-911 numbers to call if they are faced with an emergency.

911 Wireless Emergency Alert
A screenshot of a Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) message sent on behalf of the Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency (CRESA) in 2018

I’m sure CenturyLink is hard at work attempting to remedy the issue, and depending on how the media treats it over the next few hours and days, I think this is going to go one of two ways: either it will be chalked up as an error caused by either a human or technical error and die down, or it will be spun as a COMPLETE DISASTER, OH MY GOSH WE HAVE TO NATIONALIZE THE PHONE COMPANIES RIGHT NOW THINK OF THE CHILDREN YOUR SAFETY DEPENDS ON THIS!!!!!

It’s hard to predict which way this will go, but I hope CenturyLink is able to resolve the problem quickly, and no one is found to have come to any harm as a result of the outage. Even more than that, though, I hope that this does not spark any ‘national outrage’ or senatorial or congressional inquiries into what is most likely a technical malfunction. Should that happen, never forget or underestimate the ability of a politician to spin this into a full-fledged, fire-breathing, dragon capable of burning the whole house down.

What do I mean by this? I mean that the government’s interest is only self-preservation and self-propagation, and there aren’t really any methods they would consider to be off-limits, especially one so easily labeled as a ‘threat to American safety’ such as a huge collapse of the 911 system. They’ll fan the flames of fear and we’ll have pundits talking about how private companies cannot be trusted to run or maintain the phone lines, and only the government is capable of doing it correctly. You know. Because safety. Because of the children.

To that end, my only reply is this: when has government involvement ever made things more efficient or more effective?

A government takeover of the telephone system would be a clear and present danger to the citizens of the United States and to the citizens of other countries. Through the Snowden Revelations, we have already seen what governments with nearly unchecked authority are willing to do in terms of monitoring and surveilling their citizenry. – and much of that required secret court orders to compel cooperation of the private telecom companies. What steps they would be willing to take should they actually own the infrastructure is something that exists outside my level of comprehension.

At the end of the day, what does it mean to you and to me? I can’t say what it means for you, but I know that for me it only increases my desire to further ensure that my personal systems and data are as secure and robust as possible. Here’s hoping that CenturyLink can get things squared away soon and no harm has or will come to anyone due to the malfunction. Good luck and prepare for the purge!* (just kidding. Mostly)

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