LAWRENCE COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) — Like COVID-19 isn’t hard enough on first responders, Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office now has even more hoops to jump through as they do their jobs after the county’s 911 system was hit by a malicious computer virus.
The virus, known as ransomware, shut down various aspects of the emergency communications systems.
According to Lawrenceburg City PIO, Sissy Garner, so far the cyber criminals have not made any demands.
Garner adds, “The 911 Controlling board is cooperating with the FBI and TBI to resolve the issue as quickly as possible. The city and county are working with each other and getting daily updates on the situation.”
Garner adds, “Our main priority is the safety of all our citizens and first responders.”
The malicious virus was discovered Saturday afternoon at the Lawrence County Emergency communications center.
“It hasn’t stopped us. There’s no public threat there,” said Lawrence County Sheriff John Myers.
“You’re perfectly safe,” said Lawrenceburg Police Chief Terry Beecham.
Both men say the most important thing the public should know about the ransomware attack on the 911 center is that it will NOT affect the public— or their ability to call for help.
“If a person needs help, dispatchers will dispatch fire rescue or police right then and there, just like they have been. There’s no delay there,” said Sheriff Myers.
Chief Beecham said there is no visible change that the public will notice.
“Unless you were told you wouldn’t know that our system is suffering issues,” said Chief Beecham.
Both Myers and Beecham tell News 2 that officers will feel the effects, primarily on traffic stops. That’s when officers would normally use their in-car computer to run criminal histories and license checks through state and federal databases.
Because of the computer virus, officers will now have to use their phones.
Officials agree that once took seconds, now will take minutes, especially if officers have to call dispatchers who have to call other counties to get information, then wait while that information is relayed back to the officer out on the streets.
Chief Beecham said he expects his officers will call the Sheriff’s Department to see if there are outstanding warrants. The chief says mapping information that once came up instantly in the call will now have to be looked up in the officer’s cell phone.
The chief says there will be no drop off in response to the public, either being able to report an emergency or the officer’s responding to that emergency. But, the chief admits the operation for the officer will take longer after the initial call or traffic stop, especially when it comes to filling out reports.
Sheriff Myers adds that the delay has the potential to be dangerous.
“There’s more of a delay now, than what we experienced before this. We can pretty much do what we need to do out there, it just takes longer, which in return increases the danger.”
The sheriff said his officers and those in the police department will overcome and adapt for the public good.
“Like I said, we are not going to let it get us down. We’ll keep doing what the people expect us to do and we’ll just roll with it,” said Sheriff Myers.
How long it will take to get the system back up and running is not yet known. Officials confirm the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Tennessee Bureau of Investigation are both investigating the breach.