The city of Dallas, Texas believes computer hackers are responsible for setting off its emergency sirens more than a dozen times in just a few hours.
Dallas authorities say the city’s 156 sirens began blaring shortly before midnight on 7 April. Fire-Rescue crews tried to fix the problem, but after the sirens sounded more than a dozen times, they had no choice but to disable the emergency system at around 1:20 a.m.
The Office of Emergency Management (OEM) sent out a public statement via Twitter explaining the siren system had experienced an issue and urging people to not call 911.
System malfunction with City of Dallas siren system. Crews working to fix. No emergency. Please do NOT call 911. Thank you.
— City of Dallas Office of Emergency Management (@DallasOEM) April 8, 2017
But many people didn’t listen.
Before 3:00 a.m. on 8 April, the city’s emergency services received 4,400 calls – twice the number residents normally place between 11:30 p.m. and 7:00 a.m.
Those calls swamped an already compromised 911 system, driving up the average wait time from 10 seconds to six minutes.
City spokeswoman Sana Syed is sympathetic with people having been concerned. As she told Dallas News:
“We understand that people were concerned. We had people asking if we were being attacked because of what’s going on overseas.”
It took Dallas authorities several hours to fix the issue. At around 9:00 p.m. on 8 April, authorities reactivated the system.
— Dr. Sana Syed (@SanaSyedKI) April 9, 2017
The city of Dallas is convinced someone outside its system compromised the sirens. They know how they did it, and they’re working to prevent it from happening again. As of this writing, authorities don’t know was behind the issue. But given the vulnerability of emergency systems to hackers, Mayor Mike Rawlings told Dallas News he’s determined to find out:
“This is yet another serious example of the need for us to upgrade and better safeguard our city’s technology infrastructure. It’s a costly proposition, which is why every dollar of taxpayer money must be spent with critical needs such as this in mind. Making the necessary improvements is imperative for the safety of our citizens.”
Attribution could prove to be a challenge. But you never know. The responsible party could have slipped up and made some damning mistakes that will lead law enforcement straight to their doorstep. Let’s hope that’s the case.