With Bucks County’s computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system out of service due to a cyberattack as of Wednesday, few details on what exactly happened, when the key system may be restored, and who did it have been made public.
Bucks County officials have acknowledged the outage and stressed that the 9-1-1 system remains operational.
A source with knowledge of the incident said a “ransomware-type attack” was to blame for the outage. Due to security concerns, the person declined to say more.
What the ransom request was or if officials have been in contact with the attacker remained unknown.
On Wednesday morning, Bucks County spokesperson James O’Malley said he had no new information to share.
“I want both the public and our first responder partners to know that our 9-1-1 system is up and running – If you call us for an emergency response, our dispatchers will get you the help you need,” Bucks County Emergency Services Director Audrey Kenny said in a statement. “The county has partnered with state and federal agencies, and has retained best-in-class incident response professionals to assist in our ongoing investigation.”
The county’s CAD system went down Sunday afternoon.
No timeline for restoration has been relayed to police agencies, fire companies, and ambulance squads.
Sources in local agencies, who have talked with county staff, have said attorneys for county government advised staff not to speak about the incident, which is the focus of a federal law enforcement investigation.
FBI Special Agent Ned Conway told LevittownNow.com, NewtownPANow.com, and NewHopeFreePress.com that he was unable to comment on whether or not an investigation exists.
The Bucks County District Attorney’s Office referred comment on the matter to county government officials.
Law enforcement sources said the Pennsylvania National Guard is involved in restoration and response operation. The state military agency has soldiers trained to respond to cyberattacks.
Sources have said there is no indication as of Tuesday afternoon that other county systems have been compromised.
The CAD is used by dispatchers, 9-1-1-call-takers, and responders to input and broadcast addresses and unfolding information on incidents. The information goes to crews in the field and helps determine what units are dispatched.
The outage has impacted local law enforcement agencies, fire companies, and ambulance squads, including in-vehicle computers and apps that alert responders of active calls. The Pennsylvania State Police use their own system separate of the county’s CAD.
Local police officials have said departmental data systems, which are separate from the county’s CAD, remain operational.
The officials, who didn’t wish to be identified due to the sensitive nature of the situation, said access to statewide and federal law enforcement databases had been limited, but county dispatchers and many police stations continue to have access.
Patrol officers across Bucks County are back to using pen and pencil to track call times, addresses, information, and additional notes. Those paper records have to be retained by departments as potential evidence in criminal cases.
A source close to the county 9-1-1 operation said an Excel spreadsheet and handwritten notes are being used as backups by call-takers and dispatchers at the Bucks County 9-1-1 Center in Ivyland Borough.
One police official said frustrations among younger officers used to relying on the CAD were showing through by Tuesday.
Several firefighters said dispatches have been slowed due to the more manual process of getting information on calls. 9-1-1 staff have to manually sort out what companies are set to respond and alert fire stations of a call.
However, one fire chief said he didn’t believe the situation was severely impacting public safety or response times in a meaningful way, but he said it certainly was creating a hassle for all involved.
Many local police and fire officials did commend 9-1-1 center and county staff for their efforts during a difficult situation.
The county runs its 9-1-1 operation out of Ivyland Borough and handles calls for more than 130 agencies.