911 phone system crashes Backup also fails, cutting Arundel's service for 79 minutes

'We can't explain it'

1 emergency reported

officials search for cause of shutdown

July 20, 1998|By Joe Mathews | Joe Mathews,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County's 911 emergency telephone system crashed early yesterday morning, and its backup failed as well, leaving callers with a busy signal for more than an hour and police officials searching for answers.

Without warning, the regular 911 phone system and the backup crashed at 7: 30 a.m., said Lt. Jeff Kelly, an Anne Arundel police spokesman. Callers to 911 got a busy signal until 8: 49 a.m., when backup service was restored.

The entire system returned to service at 9: 20 a.m., but Bell Atlantic technicians and police personnel spent much of the morning searching -- unsuccessfully -- for the cause of the shutdown. Bell Atlantic officials did not return repeated phone calls and pages seeking comment.

"We can't explain it," said Kelly. "We've had the system go down before, but always we've had the backupphones. I can't remember the whole thing going down at once before."

Anne Arundel's 911 system is linked to fire, police and ambulance services. It is maintained by Bell Atlantic in what officers call "the phone room," a quiet alcove in the basement of county police headquarters on Veterans Highway in Millersville.

The system dates to 1985, officials said, but has been upgraded several times.

Early speculation was that a power surge or outage might have caused the shutdown, but police said that the headquarters building never lost power.

Within minutes of the shutdown, calls were rerouted to the county's four police districts, and extra personnel were brought in to answer the phones. Television and radio stations broadcast the district numbers, but several calls came in through telephone company operators. A few Anne Arundel residents called authorities in Baltimore City and Howard County, Kelly said.

The only emergency during the time the system was down was a heart attack. The call came in on a regular police line and was forwarded to the fire department "within seconds," Kelly said.

At North Arundel Hospital in Glen Burnie, nurses held their breath, waiting for difficult drive-up emergency cases that usually are handled by paramedics. But the hospital's luck held until after the shutdown. In the hour after 911 service was restored, seven ambulances pulled up, carrying patients in need of urgent medical attention.

"It was scary," said Battalion Chief John Scholz of Anne Arundel County EMS/Fire/Rescue. "You guys want answers and I do, too. We were lucky it went down on a very slow Sunday morning."

Pub Date: 7/20/98

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