Electrical short caused crash of 911 system Reason for problem, backup failure concern to county, Bell Atlantic

July 21, 1998|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

An electrical short in a power strip caused Anne Arundel County's 911 emergency telephone system to crash Sunday, Bell Atlantic officials said yesterday. But it is still unclear what caused the short and why the backup system also failed.

Callers to the county's 911 system, which handles emergency calls for the county police and fire departments, got busy signals from 7: 30 a.m. to 8: 49 a.m., when the backup service was restored. The power strip was repaired and the main system was returned to service at 9: 20 a.m., said Lt. Jeff Kelly, a police spokesman.

A power strip is a rectangular box with several electrical outlets and an on-off switch that plugs into a wall outlet.

A Bell Atlantic spokeswoman said the short could have been caused by a power surge, but no other computer or telephone systems at police headquarters in Millersville were affected.

The short should not have affected the backup system at the Annapolis Police Department headquarters, officials said. Technicians are investigating the mishaps.

The backup system worked smoothly during an hourlong test yesterday, and police said things are back to normal.

"We haven't experienced a relapse," Kelly said. "We have to rely on Bell Atlantic to investigate the cause. It's more than just unusual -- it's disconcerting to know that not only the main system failed but the backup as well."

The incident was the first in Maryland in which main and backup 911 systems failed simultaneously, said Walter Campbell, 911 product manager for Bell Atlantic.

Typically, when a main system fails, a supervisor calls the backup center -- in this case the Annapolis Police Department's 911 center -- where another supervisor activates the backup system, a computer that switches calls from the Millersville center to Annapolis.

Operators in Annapolis then dispatch the emergency calls to Anne Arundel police officers and the fire department. But that didn't happen Sunday.

"They threw the [backup] switch and for some reason, it didn't work," said Deborah Barnes, a county police communications supervisor. "It's always worked before. As soon as Annapolis throws the switch, everything works fine."

The Annapolis 911 center did not lose any emergency calls in the city, police said. However, it was unable to answer calls to the Millersville center.

While the system was shut down, county residents were urged through radio and television to call the four county police districts directly in case of emergencies. Police officials said the districts handled about nine incidents, one of which was a resident complaining of chest pains. The call was immediately forwarded to the fire department.

Anne Arundel's system was installed in 1985 and upgraded 10 years later with new equipment that is "very current," Campbell said. Last year, the 911 center handled more than 308,000 calls.

Police officials said they were relieved the breakdown happened at a slow time.

"If we had to pick a morning, Sunday morning is the one we would pick," Kelly said. "It happened with most people not being aware of it."

Pub Date: 7/21/98

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