Technical glitch or cyber attack? 

Investigators are trying to determine what caused Erie County’s 911 system to go down for about an hour. According to county officials, a deactivated cell phone dialed 911 every seven seconds.

The center received about 750 calls from this phone and said these calls prevented other wireless callers from getting through

Around 10:00 p.m. on Sunday, Erie County 911 services were disabled. Thousands of residents received notifications that wireless calls could not go through to the 911 center.

Representatives from the Erie County Department of Public Safety said this prompted an investigation by the Pennsylvania Emergency Management agency. Officials know that a deactivated cell phone called the center every seven seconds which overwhelmed the system.

“What a deactivated 911 cell phone is is a cell phone that doesn’t have service, so it doesn’t have a contracted service with a service provider, but all those cell phones can still call 911 in case of an emergency,” said John Durlin, 911 coordinator, Erie County Department of Public Safety.

Operations were restored about an hour later. Officials said there are two possible explanations: one is a technical malfunction and the another is an intentional denial of service attempt.

In other words, the issue could be the result of a cyber attack. The director of the Erie County Department of Public Safety said the new system put in place last month helped them resolve the issue more quickly.

“The systems that we have in place worked as they were intended. That allowed us to continue to work with the state and their partners to identify what the problem was and then resolve that as quickly as possible,“ said John Grappy, director, Erie County Department of Public Safety.

“It definitely concerns us that somebody in an emergency with a cell phone couldn’t reach 911. The benefit of next-generation 911 is that traffic is segregated so that we can isolate the incoming influx of wireless calls, and people could still call from a landline. We also still have the administrative lines,” said Durlin.

As the investigation continues public safety representatives say if this were to happen again you can text 911, call 911 on a landline or call the department’s direct line.