Emergency number outage not a hack, KPN says; Justice Minister summons company

KPN Takeover
KPN is possibly taken over by América Móvil

For over three hours on Monday, emergency number 1-1-2 was unreachable due to an outage at telecom company KPN. The cause of the outage is still under investigation, but it was definitely not a hack, according to Joost Farwerck of the KPN Board of Management. Minister Ferdinand Grapperhaus of Justice and Security summoned the company for an explanation on Tuesday, NOS reports.

KPN works with various backup systems that should take over when things go wrong. "The domains had to be restarted, which took a few hours", Farwerck said to the broadcaster. "We now have an indication of the cause, but much is still unclear. The backups were there, but did not work." He emphasized that it was not a hack. 

Connectivity problems on the KPN network, including mobile phones, and landlines, began between 3:45 p.m. and 4 p.m. Along with 112, the main phone number for the police department was also knocked offline. 

It was not until 5:15 p.m. that authorities distributed new phone numbers people could call in a crisis. For over an hour, people in most of the Netherlands were advised to either find a cop on the street, flag down a fire truck, or physically visit a police station, fire house, hospital, or government building to report an emergency. Some rescue workers were also taking incident reports using social media platforms. When the authorities finally did release a number people could use to contact the police on WhatsApp, spreading it on emergency alert system NL-Alert, it turned out to be the number for the tip line of newspaper De Telegraaf. 

In 2012 a major outage also affected the emergency number, resulting in the death of one or two people who were unable to reach emergency services. On Monday night Minister Grapperhaus told NOS that it is still too early to say what happened during the hours of the outage. 

The Amsterdam police called the outage "Unacceptable". This situation "should never have occurred", a spokesperson said to AT5. During the outage, the Amsterdam police used "all available means" to continue to guarantee safety, the spokesperson said. He could not yet say how many Amsterdam residents had problems during the outage on Monday.

The police units in Rotterdam, The Hague, Utrecht, and many others, told NU.nl that the situation during the outage is still being evaluated. It is not yet clear wether the emergency services missed any important emergency calls. Though the police did say that they received "a large number of unnecessary phone calls". 

The KPN management already met with Grapperhaus on Monday night to catch him up on everything that happened. The course of events and possible solutions will be further discussed on Tuesday. The national coordinator for counter-terrorism and security NCTV will also be present at that discussion, Farwerck said to NOS. 

The outage also led to surprise and outrage from parliamentarians. "This should not be possible", CDA parliamentarian Chris van Dam said on Twitter. PvdA parliamentarian Attje Kuiken wants to know why there was no working back-up system. According to VVD MP Arne Weverling, the outage shows how vulnerable the Netherlands is. "We must evaulate this quickly", he said. 

"The most incomprehensible is not that a 112 failure can occur, but that the emergency scenario does not work. How is it possible that the number of the Telegraaf tip line was given as a replacement for 112? A joke? Or was there no plan at all?" GroenLinks MP Kathalijne Buitenweg tweeted 

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