New Orleans Emergency Comms Director Shares How 911 Stayed Up During Cyberattack

New Orleans emergency communications systems survived unharmed after a December 2019 cyberattack to the city IT’s systems. Now, Executive Director of Orleans Parish Communication District Tyrell Morris is sharing how the city prepared to keep its 911 system secure.

Traditionally, Morris said that the city had fought back against the implementation of cloud technology to support its IT systems believing it to be less secure. “What we are finding though is as the world or industry of cybersecurity begins to develop,” he said at the September 23 Annual National Cybersecurity Summit hosted by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, “we’ve surpassed that point and some of cloud-based solutions have become more secure than our data centers in our back rooms.”

Morris listed the types of attacks that cities’ 911 centers most commonly face, including malware, ransomware, telephony denial of service, spear phishing, swatting, unauthorized data access, and unauthorized network access. When a cyberattack occurred in New Orleans last year, Morris explained his team was prepared because they had stayed prepared for the ‘when’ not ‘if.’

“When it did happen, we were able to defend our most vulnerable networks and not have any degradation in service,” he said. Just last week, according to Morris, the department overcame a spear phishing attempt because of its preparedness.

Morris said that the cybersecurity training programs he usually sees walk individuals through how to identify suspicious emails, but not the rules of engagement when it comes to mitigating cyberthreats. In an attempt to fight off attacks at every level, his team is constantly trained at every level on what to do in the wake of possible attack.

“The attempts are going to continue, they’re going to become stronger, they’re going to change the face and the way they look to us,” Morris asserted, “but I think with constant education and constant innovation on how we can defend our networks from these types of attacks, the better off we’ll be.”

Katie Malone
About Katie Malone
Katie Malone is MeriTalk SLG's Staff Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.