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Two 911 emergency dispatch outages blamed on Verizon

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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Westmoreland County officials said they hope the third disruption of service to the 911 dispatch system will be the last.

The system sustained sporadic outages Sunday night, prompting dispatchers to use portable radios for about 15 minutes to send emergency-response crews to the western part of the county.

The Sunday outage was the third in the last two weeks at the emergency dispatch center in Hempfield.

Commissioners Charles Anderson and Tyler Courtney said Tuesday that a review of operations determined a glitch that affected communications on Sunday and last Thursday was caused by equipment provided by Verizon -- not related to internal software and other county computer system failures.

Verizon spokesman Lee Gierczynski confirmed yesterday that investigators determined the outages were caused by a failed telecommunications computer card that works with the radio-dispatch system.

The card was changed on Monday.

"Hopefully that will resolve the issues with the system, but we're continuing to monitor to see if it reoccurs," Gierczynski said.

On Feb. 27, the 911 center lost power for seven minutes, leaving dispatchers unable to accept calls or to issue rescue calls. That incident was blamed on a bridge power source that failed to kick in after electricity at the center was taken down to repair a generator.

The failure caused the computer systems to go off-line and then reboot when an emergency generator kicked in.

"It's public safety, and we need to be online and be able to support the citizens of Westmoreland County," Anderson said. "The systems at 911 are now responding to the way they're supposed to run."

Public Safety Department spokesman Dan Stevens said the latest outage affected only dispatches. No 911 calls were lost as a result of the malfunction.

Meanwhile, officials continue to look to upgrade the 911 system. The county last year purchased a new switch system that will enable 911 calls and dispatching functions to be turned over immediately to operations in Indiana and Armstrong counties. The switch system still must be installed, Anderson said.

In other news, commissioners are looking to hire a new executive director of the public safety department. The position became vacant by last year's retirement of Richard Matason.

The county started advertising to find Matason's replacement last month and received about 25 applications.

Courtney said nine candidates will be brought in for interviews. A new director could be hired in about two weeks.

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