Monday, July 11, 2016

MoCo 911 outage another sign of growth outpacing infrastructure

The failure of Montgomery County's 911 emergency system last night and early this morning is another indication that infrastructure is not keeping pace with residential growth. It also underlined how our elected officials continue to fail in providing the most basic services - removing snow from sidewalks, plowing County roads, properly displaying the American flag on County property, delivering adequate school and road capacity for the development they approve, and now, answering 911 calls.

Most stunning was that the County failed to alert the public, leaving police and fire officials to have to report the outage to citizens. Police and fire accounts tweeted throughout the night. But the official Montgomery County executive branch social media accounts on Facebook and Twitter were silent through the night. Only around 6:00 AM, nearly five hours after basic 911 service was restored, did the @MontgomeryCoMD account retweet a Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Services tweet regarding the outage, which reportedly began around 11:15 PM.

Some on social media reported having problems with the 911 system as early as last Friday. No reason for the outage has been released as of this writing.

Given that official announcements from the police and fire social media accounts came more than an hour after callers were reportedly first receiving busy signals, it suggests that the current 911 system does not alert operators when it fails. Whatever the cause, the outage was a deadly threat to the public. When every second counts, in a heart attack or stroke, or in a burglary or a house fire, the extra time to look up the number of the nearest police or fire station could be fatal.

This is the latest example of County infrastructure not keeping up with rapid residential development countywide.

Four years after Councilmember Hans Riemer took office promising to make Montgomery County the cybersecurity capital of the world, it was discovered the County government was still operating on Windows 2000, one of the most vulnerable platforms in the world.

And a damning 2016 State of Maryland audit of Montgomery County Public Schools uncovered a staggering number of cybersecurity weaknesses, leaving student information easily accessible to hackers. Cyber intruders, the audit revealed, could access "any destination on the MCPS network." Eighty-six business partners of the school system improperly have "network-level access to the entire MCPS network." And the installed version of the database holding student information hasn't been supported by its developer since January 2012. Oh, and did I mention that 75% of the workstations tested by auditors didn't have the current security updates downloaded?

While the County clearly needs to get back to basics, what's needed even more urgently are elected officials who can deliver those basic services and functions we elect them to provide.

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