The NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters have learned the company hired to improve reliability issues plaguing our state’s new 911 network had a significant outage with a 911 system it oversaw in a state nearby. This follows an NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters exclusive on first responders’ concerns about “Next Generation 911” this summer.
Many people the NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters spoke with wonder if these Next Generation 911 outages are just isolated hiccups with new technology that needs to have the kinks worked out, or if the state is moving too fast with something that has not been perfected yet.
Jenna Stepleman could not believe she received a recording after calling 911 July 15 - a last resort after her group got their car stuck in a New Haven garage that had closed.
That night half the state’s 100-plus dispatch centers had intermittent outages – most lasting 15 minutes or less. Those failing dispatch centers were equipped with new Next Generation 911 technology that the state hopes will someday enable text and video to 911.
Stepleman told the Troubleshooters ”It's a problem!...because if we were in some sort of like crazy emergency how would we have gotten to anyone for help without 911?”
AT&T, the lead contractor on the Next Generation 911 project, agreed. It reevaluated the original company that designed the Next Generation 911 software. In October, it told the state’s Enhanced 911 Commission it fired the company and replaced it with a software company called “West.”
An AT&T employee told those in attendance about West: “It's highly reliable, there's numerous solutions that have already been deployed, that drive the same level of capacity, and need, as what we see from a state of Connecticut standpoint.”
The change, in some cases not even a year after some dispatch centers switched to next generation 911, raised questions with some dispatch managers. The NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters also discovered that West ran Vermont’s Next Generation 911 network from 2011 to 2015 under the company’s prior trade name, Intrado.
In 2014 Vermont’s 911 network had a 40 minute outage. Its contract with the state was not renewed. The state says that decision was prior to the outage.
All this generated mixed opinions from our state legislators familiar with the Next Generation 911 issue.
Public Safety Committee Co-Chair Steve Dargan said, “I think AT&T had some problems with that subcontractor and they realized that and went and looked at additional software and chose a new subcontractor to finish some of the kinks that are in our Next Gen 911.”
State Senator Tony Hwang of Fairfield raised concern.
”This move to a new vendor, without a lot of transparency, without a lot of dialog, is a significant cause of concern for me as legislator.”
Neither AT&T, nor the state of Connecticut will talk on camera about the switch to West or the system failure in Vermont. In a statement AT&T said “…after a thorough evaluation of call handling platforms and options available, a new platform was selected that best meets the needs of the citizens of the state of Connecticut.”
The state also had a prepared statement, saying “…we will continue to hold AT&T accountable to the terms of the contract to install the Next Generation 911 system.”
The West Corporation has not responded to our requests for comment.
Berlin dispatcher Tammy Wright welcomes the change in Connecticut’s Next Generation 911 software. even if it’s the second time this has happened in just a few years.
”It is more user friendly, it looks nicer," she said.
Jenna Stepleman, the person on the end of a failed 911 call, remains unsure.
”It's a weird thing to think about that you can't trust 911 but just a personal experience kind of led it to be that way.”
While some still question if the Next Generation 911 change will work out, the good news is the state says it will not cost the state any more than the $13 million it has already spent on the software package. The plan is to have Next Generation 911 deployed statewide by the end of next year.