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Y2K-like bug knocks out NYC’s wireless network system

A traffic light. (

A Y2K-like bug knocked out the city’s already-troubled wireless network system.

The bug, known as the “GPS Rollover,” hit the city NYCWiN system April 6, affecting several tasks, including remote monitoring of traffic lights at 13,000 intersections, wireless reading of water meters, and a handful of NYPD license plate readers, the New York Times reported.

The city made no public announcements after the outage happened, though Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications spokeswoman Stephanie Raphael confirmed the rollover took down “elements ” of the system.

“We’re working overtime to update the network and bring all of it back online,” she said. “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.”

The Global Positioning System keeps track of time in weekly intervals, and every 1,024 weeks, or roughly 20 years, that time-keeping system resets itself.

Raphael didn’t say how the city was preparing for the rollover, which the Department of Homeland Security issued a warning about a year ago.

Most of the NYPD’s license plate readers don’t rely on the network, and the police department sent patrol cars with license plate readers to several key spots as part of a “contingency plan,” an NYPD spokesman said. The police department hasn’t seen any disruptions due to the bug, police said.

The city pays roughly $37 million annually to defense contractor Northrop Grumman to maintain the $500 million system, which was installed during the Bloomberg administration, in 2009.

By 2012, the city already wanted to sell the network back to Northrop Grumman, and in 2015, the de Blasio administration again put the system up for sale, since it never lived up to its billing as a broadband network for first-responder agencies.

“The situation shows a real need to do some serious oversight on NYCWiN more broadly,” said City Councilman Brad Lander, who sits on the council’s technology committee. “What are its goals, what is it’s critical function, why are we paying for it?

“We’ve got a lot of questions to ask. Why did we renew it? If most of the police department scanners are operating without it, then why are a small number of scanners operating with it?” he added. “What seems more likely is it’s not a mission-critical system. We ought to be migrating to other, cheaper platforms.”


© 2019 New York Daily News

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