Cause of emergency number outage still a mystery, Minister tells Parliament

Ferdinand Grapperhaus
Ferdinand Grapperhaus (front, left) at the International Missions Remembrance Medal during the World Forum in The Hague. Nov. 1, 2018 Photo: Ministry of Foreign Affairs / Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

The cause of an outage at KPN on Monday that left emergency number 112 and the police call center unreachable for over three hours, is still unknown, Minister Ferdinand Grapperhaus of Justice and Security said in a letter to parliament on Tuesday. KPN assured him that the outage affected KPN systems and not the "112-platform" itself, the Minister said.

"First and foremost, I regret that people could not turn to 1-1-2 in a moment of need. The safety of people is my top priority", the Minister wrote, stressing that the consequences of this outage will be "mapped out as quickly as possible". 

The 112-platform has multiple backup systems, but these also did not work during the "overall failure" that affected the KPN "parent network", Grapperhaus said. The telecom company told him that they are investigating this thoroughly, he said.

During the outage, emergency services did everything in their power to be as available as possible. Police and other first responders were deployed to be visible on the streets and other public spaces, and made efforts to communicate through regional media. Alternative contact numbers were also sent out through citizens' alert system NL-Alert. One of these numbers was wrong, turning out to be the number of the tip line for newspaper De Telegraaf. "That was corrected after discovery", Grapperhaus said. "I immediately contacted De Telegraaf personally and expressed my regret. How this could have happened is included in the malfunction evaluation."

"I also attach great importance to properly and carefully investigating, together with the State Secretary of Economic Affairs and Climate and KPN, how this disruption could have occurred at KPN and why the backup facilities did not function properly", Grapperhaus wrote. Part of this investigation will be what consequences the outage had for the accessibility of the emergency services and how the services responded to the outage. 

The Minister referred to a report by the national coordinator for counter terrorism and security NCTV published earlier this month, in which concerns were raised on how dependent the Netherlands is on digital systems. Almost all fo the Netherlands' vital processes and systems have been digitized and there are virtually no fall back options. This makes the Netherlands extra vulnerable to digital attacks, the NCTV warned. "This incident emphasizes the necessity of the measures announced by the NCTV", Grapperhaus said. 

Grapperhaus also expressed his "great appreciation" for the emergency services' efforts in remaining as accessible as possible during the disruption. 

Earlier on Tuesday KPN said that it is still investigating the cause of the outage, but that it was not caused by a hack. The company also said that it is "increasing" the security on the 112 connection for the time being, though did not elaborate on what this increased security entails, reports. KPN's CEO Maximo Ibarra also announced his resignation on Tuesday, though he said his departure is due to pressing family matters and not because of the outage.