By Tony Plohetski
Tuesday, February 1, 2005
For the second time in less than a month, Austin’s computer system for dispatching 911 calls crashed Sunday night, causing call-takers and public safety workers on the street to do business the old-fashioned way.
Dispatchers spent 90 minutes — from 7:45 to 9:15 p.m. — taking white notecards with handwritten addresses from 911 call-takers, then radioing police officers, firefighters and paramedics the places they needed to go.
"Nobody’s safety was ever compromised," Assistant City Manager Rudy Garza said Monday.
Officials said response times might have suffered slightly during the crash, but only by seconds.
Ninety-nine calls were made to 911 while the system was down.
Call-takers, who determine which public safety agency should respond to a call and instantly route the information via computers, had to walk several feet from their workstations to dispatchers with each note.
Dispatchers, who generally send the information to crews
in the field by computer, had to use radios to give them addresses.
The crash was the system’s second in less than a month.
It was added to a list of complaints that officers and other emergency workers have, including calls vanishing from dispatchers’ computer screens and delays in routing calls from call-takers to dispatchers.
According to a Jan. 24 memo from communications supervisor Russell Evans, a call two days earlier vanished from a dispatcher’s screen, preventing her from knowing where to send assistance to an officer.
The memo doesn’t say what kind of call the officer was on.
The e-mailed memo to representatives from the police and fire departments and Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services also listed dozens of other less serious complaints, which officials said they are working to correct.
"The officers on the street depend on it to work," said Detective Mike Sheffield, president of the Austin Police Association. "We shouldn’t have to put up with a (computer-aided dispatch) system like this."
Garza said the same thing appears to have caused both crashes, and the problem has been traced to the city’s Microsoft server, a component in the $6.3 million dispatching network by TriTech Software Systems.
Microsoft officials could not be reached for comment Monday.
Officials couldn’t pinpoint the source of the problems when the system went down Jan. 14, but workers since then have installed equipment in the network that Garza said provided a report about what went wrong and why.
City officials and representatives from TriTech and Microsoft were reviewing the report Monday afternoon and hoped to find solutions to the problem in the next few days.
Garza said the city will continue to work with the companies to try to solve the system’s problems and that officials, although increasingly frustrated, would rather fix the network than begin looking for a new one.
"The fact is that the system we paid for is not working to the level that it is supposed to," Garza said. "If we don’t identify the problem, it is going to happen again."