France

Failure of emergency numbers: Orange’s “insufficient” responsiveness pointed out – National failure of emergency numbers



Lack of preparation before the intervention at the origin of the “bug” and “insufficient” reactivity in the face of the failure: the report commissioned by the government on the dysfunction of the emergency numbers system in France at the beginning of June points to the responsibility of Orange in this crisis. “It is clear from reading the report that there were shortcomings on the part of the company,” said Cédric O, the Secretary of State for Digital.

This document, piloted by the French Public IT Security Agency (Anssi), had been requested by the authorities to shed light on the failure – to which six deaths, including one in Brittany, are potentially linked – which had prevented some 12,000 calls to be routed on June 2, between 4:45 p.m. and midnight, or 11% of the total. That day, numbers 15, 17, 18 and 112 were for many French people inaccessible or reachable only after multiple attempts, a breakdown which has affected the entire territory in an unprecedented way.

Too slow reaction

The emergency services reacted by posting ten-digit phone numbers on social networks in particular, to indicate how they could be reached during the outage. These initiatives “have made it possible to considerably limit the consequences of this crisis in terms of loss of opportunity or failure to intervene”, underlines the report.

Orange quickly asserted that this crisis was due to a software “bug”, a track confirmed by this report written after about thirty interviews. The possibility of a cyberattack has for its part been ruled out by the group, as by the IT Security Agency.

The report accuses the incumbent operator of having initially poorly prepared its technical intervention at the origin of the bug – “an operation to modernize and increase the capacity of the network (…) to respond to the increase in traffic” , Orange had indicated in mid-June – and then reacted too slowly.

Alert escalation system

“Orange took nearly an hour to realize that the outage affected the emergency services in particular, two hours to inform the authorities and nearly three hours to put in place an appropriate system. This is due to several internal dysfunctions at Orange, ”notes the document.

In order to prevent such a situation from happening again, various avenues are proposed to the government. This involves, for example, setting up an alert escalation system and technical supervision specific to emergency numbers among operators, or carrying out systematic tests before any technical intervention on critical equipment.

The government therefore plans to modify the regulatory framework by the end of 2021 in order to strengthen the performance obligations concerning the routing of emergency calls. In the coming days, it will also seize the telecoms regulator, Arcep, so that it can assess Orange’s compliance with its regulatory obligations. A crisis exercise must also be carried out within six months.

Orange takes note

Orange had drawn up in mid-June a first list of recommendations at the end of its internal investigation, such as the objective of “reducing from two hours to thirty minutes maximum” the time taken to trigger a crisis unit, in such a situation. . Their implementation must be verified, as well as the taking into account of those of the report published on Thursday, claim the authors of the latter.

In a statement sent to AFP, Orange said that it “takes note” of this report and that it is “committed to reviewing its procedures and its organization, in conjunction with the State services on the management emergency numbers ”, in accordance with the recommendations made.

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