Callers, First Responders Losing Faith After 911 System Fail - NBC Connecticut

Callers, First Responders Losing Faith After 911 System Fail

(Published Friday, Aug. 12, 2016)

Failure of the state's new 911 system has callers and first responders losing confidence in the multi-million dollar upgrade.

Police tell the NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters the system failure in mid-July wasn't the first problem: there were smaller outages earlier this year.  

This modern system will enable you to send texts and someday maybe even photos and videos to 911. We’ve learned though, that system failures have many shaken, and the state backing off any hard and fast completion date.

You expect an answer when you call 9-1-1.

Allison Kizis says when she saw a crash on I-84 the night of July 15th there was a motorcyclist down, and no one picked up when she called 911, "I kept my phone on speaker phone the whole time. You know screaming like please pick up and just wanted somebody to answer."

Kizis says she drove to a nearby police department to get help, “at one point I remember thinking what if everyone around me was calling 911 and we all, just no one's picking up?"

Kizis was not the only one; an NBC Connecticut employee also tried to report a different highway crash but could not get through.

The state's new 911 system had a major failure that’s known as a "hard down".

Berlin dispatcher Tammy Wright was working alone, “It's a scary feeling for all dispatchers because when you can see calls coming in and you can't answer them that there's nothing to do to help those people."

Half the state's 110 dispatch centers have the new, $13 million Next Generation 911 software.

Almost none of them could answer 9-1-1 calls at that time. Wright says, “It definitely shakes your trust.”

Manchester police chief Marc Montminy sits on the state's 911 commission and heads the technology committee for the Connecticut Police Chiefs’ Association. He explains on July 15 “We had no access for over an hour…as a chief of police I can tell you that I was terrified. I was worried about what might have happened."

Middletown dispatchers saw the system go down at 6:25pm, and again at 9pm, each time about 15 minutes. That's what most Next Generation 911 centers experienced.

Mayor Dan Drew says "They were able to see on their dispatch screens where the calls were coming from what the numbers were so they actually picked up their personal cell phones and called back everybody that called in."

Drew adds Middletown is ready if Next Generation 911 fails again, however, "We need to take a serious look at how quickly this moves forward, and what the problems are."

Software provider AT&T tells the Troubleshooters the outage was caused by the system's processing capacity, not call volume. AT&T says it has been patched, with a permanent fix coming soon. Montminy responded, “as a 9-1-1 commissioner I'm gonna need a little bit more than that."

We asked the state’s director of emergency telecommunications about what happened, and how it left emergency responders shaken about the new system. Bill Youell says “I can only tell you that we're working diligently to get to get the system to make sure that this patch is acceptable and stable and go forward from there."

Youell adds his team also will make sure 911 centers receive better communication from the state and AT&T when problems arise. He insists even though the state originally targeted finishing the Next Generation 911 project this year, his team will not fully roll out the new software until it functions properly ”my goal in our organization's goals and this agency's goal, and the state's goal, is to get this system installed, correctly."

Kizis says, “I think in the future if I ever had to call 911…I think I'd be in the back of my head, like, hopefully they pick up."

What has raised some eyebrows though is following the Next Generation 911 failure last month, a number of 911 centers have received cellphones for dispatchers in case the system goes down again. Other 911 centers have installed landlines outside the Next Generation 911 system to make sure they still get 911 calls.

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