Howard's 911 system shut down for an hour

April 04, 2009|By Don Markus | Don Markus,don.markus@baltsun.com

The 911 system in Howard County was shut down for more than an hour Friday morning after a bundle of wires that had been incorrectly marked for removal was cut by workers renovating a county government building.

According to the Police Department, which oversees dispatching 911 calls, the dozen cables inside the Howard Building in Ellicott City were cut about 8:10 a.m. Verizon, which monitors the system, notified police that the phone trunk was not working and went to the site to correct the problem. The system was restored by 9:20 a.m., police said.

Police Chief William J. McMahon said it was the first time he could recall that the entire 911 system went down. Six calls came in during that time on land lines, none concerning life-threatening situations, police spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn said. All of the calls were returned by a 911 dispatcher.

Five other calls that came in were from citizens or from someone in the department checking to see whether the system was working, McMahon said.

The chief said the system is equipped with a "redundancy" that allows police to answer calls from alternate locations in the event of more routine interruptions.

But Friday's incident was far from routine, he said. "This event was so out of the ordinary, it took us completely down," McMahon said. "We have an alternate site with the same functionality. This situation today took everything out on the phone side."

The chief said that though such a situation is not likely to occur again, the department must remain on guard.

"Obviously, we're very concerned. We preach 911 as the number to call when you have an emergency, so when we lose that, we are concerned that there are people out there in need of police, fire and medical emergency," he said. "We have to make sure we're serving those needs."

McMahon said he met Friday with other county officials, including County Executive Ken Ulman, to discuss the incident. It wasn't lost on McMahon that Friday's interruption came days after he and other officials announced the initial success of a new, streamlined protocol that has cut average emergency response times by nearly a minute since the plan was implemented Feb. 1.

"It does keep the importance of that on everybody's mind," McMahon said.

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