A glitch in the computer at county land records office virtually shut down real estate transactions in Carroll for more than a week, causing headaches for title searchers, banks and homebuyers.
Technicians from Government Systems Inc., the New Orleans company that installed the computer system, scrambled from Aug. 7 until yesterday repairing the computer crash that locked down all Carroll land records that had been recorded since late November -- deeds, mortgages and liens against property. Earlier documents, still recorded on paper, were unaffected.
"The bottom line is, if the computer goes down, you should have some backup," said Paul Cross Jr., owner of Cross-Country Abstracting Inc. "A week, that's a long time."
Don Sealing, chief deputy clerk of the court, said computer service was restored yesterday.
"I'm apologetic that people were inconvenienced," Mr. Sealing said. "I did everything humanly possible to get the system up and running."
Clerk of the Court Larry W. Shipley declined to comment, referring all questions to Mr. Sealing.
Mr. Sealing said he and Mr. Shipley, who selected the computer service supplier, thought they had adequate protection against computer failure with surge protectors and emergency power systems.
However, when the disk drive failed last week, the computer couldn't read the documents stored on the disk and the staff had no other source for the information.
Del Holzer, national sales manager for Government Systems Inc., said computer failures similar to Carroll's have occurred in only two or three of the 65 counties the corporation serves.
"We started on it the minute we knew what the problem was," Mr. Holzer said.
It took Government Systems staff members three days to transfer the land records from a backup tape to a new hard disk.
Mr. Holzer said the corporation sent the disk Friday and that it arrived in Carroll Monday.
Mr. Sealing said the new disk had additional problems that weren't corrected until yesterday.
"That was not the fault of the county," Mr. Holzer said. "It was our error."
Title searchers were able to do about 50 percent of their work while the computer was down, said Jerry L. Toadvine, owner of Jerry L. Toadvine abstract group.
Mr. Toadvine said the shutdown made it difficult to produce full title searches, including judgments, which show loans against the property.
Pam Crawmer, owner of Crawmer Abstracting Services Inc., found herself in hot water with clients who guaranteed 24-hour service on the title work they contracted to her.
"If they don't get it back in time, they don't get paid," she said.
Ms. Crawmer said banks waiting for title searches began calling her office.
"We finally told them to call the clerks directly," she said.
Mr. Sealing said he is asking Government Systems to send a microfilm copy of land records to the clerk's office "so that if the system were to go down again, we'd have an immediately accessible backup system on site."
He said the computer crash convinced officials of the need for emergency backup plans.
"Everyone learns from their mistakes," he said.