This article originally appeared in StateScoop and can be viewed here.
Tennessee, one of the states furthest along in adopting next-generation 911 technology, has hired a consulting firm to evaluate the cybersecurity preparedness of the state’s emergency call centers.
The company, Mission Critical Partners, said Wednesday that it will conduct assessments of Tennessee’s public safety answering points — at least those that opt into the review process — in search of vulnerabilities on an increasingly digital network. Though next-generation 911 is championed within the public safety industry as an important and inevitable evolution in how first responders are dispatched to emergencies, they’ve also warned that the technology’s defining features, such as the ability to share videos, photos and text, and to seamlessly route caller data between answering points, will necessarily expose the system to new attack vectors.
While many states are still converting their decades-old analog systems to internet-based platforms, Tennessee led states in adopting digital 911 systems and is now completing a conversion of its IP-based call routing technology to a platform designed with next-generation 911 in mind, called ESInet. According to Mission Critical Partners, the state plans to have next-generation 911 ready at all 142 of its PSAPs sometime next year.
Molly Falls, who’s managing the Tennessee program for Mission Critical Partners, said the Tennessee Emergency Communications Board added cybersecurity to its strategic plan for 911 last year, and that this evaluation will help prepare the state to eventually push next-generation technology live to the public.
“They recognize that cyberattacks and vulnerabilities are increasing every day as they deploy the IP networks for 911 services,” Falls said. “As next-gen 911 is maturing, so are the standards for next-generation 911, and as the standards are evolving, cybersecurity has been an increased focus.”
The program, funded in part by a $109 million 2019 federal grant that’s shared by 34 states, will assess the digital and physical security of each PSAP’s computer-aided dispatch system and call processing networks. Mission Critical Partners will also prepare a report of the vulnerabilities it finds and recommendations on how to fix them.
Of the 100 emergency communications districts that operate Tennessee’s emergency call centers, 25 have opted into the assessment program so far, said Kevin Walters, a spokesman for the Tennessee Emergency Communications Board, adding that more may join later in the process.
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