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Avoidable Outage Continues to Plague NYC Wireless Network

A planned reset of the global GPS system last weekend disrupted some city services. But officials say no critical systems were impacted and that the NYCWiN network will be fully restored within a few days.

This past weekend, the rollover of the global GPS system caused New York City’s official wireless network to crash. The network hasn’t been revived yet, though officials say they expect to have it back up and running by this weekend. 

It turns out that the outage, caused by what's known as the GPS Rollover, could have been avoided. There was plenty of advance notice of the reset of the Global Positioning System — a satellite system run by the U.S. Air Force that provides geolocation and time signals for devices and networks across the globe. 

The system’s reset — which took place Saturday, after nearly four decades of continuous use — had been warned about in a memo issued by the Department of Homeland Security approximately one year earlier, which cautioned “federal, state, local, and private sector organizations” of the need to plan for the event by installing needed updates to hardware and software.  

However, despite the advanced warnings, the New York City Wireless Network, also called the NYCWiN, was disrupted by the rollover, causing many city agencies that rely on it to lose various functions. 

Multiple news outlets have reported that transit officials lost remote access to the city’s traffic lights, and that many of the city’s traffic cameras and police license plate readers suffered malfunctions. The city also did not initially disclose to the public that the system was down, according to the New York Times

Stephanie Raphael, the communications director for the city’s IT and Telecommunications Department, provided Government Technology with a statement regarding the outage: 

“Elements of our private wireless network have been disrupted by a worldwide GPS system update. We’re working overtime to update the network and bring all of it back online. No critical public safety systems are affected by this brief software installation period, and we’ve taken several steps to make up for the disruption to the few isolated tools affected. We are testing the equipment right now and expect to have NYCWiN back up this weekend.”

Phillip Walzak, the deputy commissioner of public information for the NYPD, similarly reported that the city’s public safety operations were largely unaffected.  

“Systems managed by the NYPD are not experiencing any issues,” Walzak said. “NYCWiN supports only a limited number of NYPD applications, including some of its fixed position license plate readers (LPRs),” he added.  

Walzak further commented that the NYPD “always maintains contingency plans to prevent any single point of failure, and since the outage occurred over the weekend, the NYPD has deployed mobile LPR readers to targeted locations across the city to ensure continued service to the public.”

“The NYPD has not experienced disruption to operations, investigations or services during the outage, and continues to monitor the situation closely and collaborate with partner city agencies.” 

Lucas Ropek is a former staff writer for Government Technology.