Computer glitches have DNR worried : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

Computer glitches have DNR worried

Hunting licenses may be given out by hand

By Meg Jones of the Journal Sentinel staff

Last Updated: Sept. 27, 1999

Procrastinating deer hunters shouldn't wait until the last minute to get their licenses this season because computer glitches that have plagued the new system could leave them out in the cold.

Two frustrating computer crashes in the last few months prompted officials to come up with a backup plan for the gun-deer season just in case the new system locks up again, George Meyer, secretary of the state Department of Natural Resources, said Monday.

The automated licensing system already has crashed twice, and officials are worried it won't be able to handle the expected last-minute rush of hunters who usually get their licenses a few days before the gun-deer season starts on Nov. 20.

The DNR began selling hunting and fishing licenses by computer in March. If the new system crashes again, stores and DNR stations will be able to issue permits the old way - writing them out by hand.

"It seems to happen on those days when we have the highest volume," Meyer said in a phone interview Monday. "We still know we have our highest sales days coming up on the Wednesday, Thursday and Friday before rifle season."

Hunters fumed and store clerks sweat when the computer system locked up in July right before the deadline for hunter's choice permits and again on Sept. 17, the day before the start of the archery-deer season. The first crash forced DNR officials to extend the deadline for hunter's choice permits by two days.

This month bowhunters were left on hold for half an hour to an entire day when the computer system crashed. In some cases, those whose names were punched into the computer when it crashed could not get licenses elsewhere since the computer said they had already received their permit.

Bowhunters cannot legally tag a deer until three days after they receive their license, to prevent someone from shooting a deer in the morning and then getting a permit in the afternoon to tag it. Rifle hunters, however, must get licenses by midnight the night before opening day or they're out of luck for the entire nine-day season.

Mitch Mode, owner of Mel's Trading Post in Rhinelander, said things could get nasty if the computer system crashes right before rifle season.

"From my side of the counter, it has really ratcheted up the stress level," Mode said Monday. "I'm getting yelled at. People will say, 'It's not your fault,' but they still get in my face."

Each year between 600,000 and 700,000 hunters armed with rifles head out into Wisconsin's woods to hunt deer. And each year thousands will wait until the last minute to buy their licenses.

"Naturally, if these people wouldn't wait until the last minute we wouldn't have this happen," said Darlene Burk, a buyer at Shepherd & Schaller Sporting Goods in Wausau.

Like at most of the other 1,700 places that sell hunting and fishing licenses, the computer system crashed at Shepherd & Schaller during the hunter's choice permit and bowhunting frenzies, Burk said.

"It gets very frustrating because you call the help line and naturally there is nothing they can do," she said.

Still, despite advertising and announcements encouraging hunters to get their licenses early, most probably will wait until the last week, Mode said.

"People pay their taxes on the 15th (of April), they buy their Christmas presents on Christmas Eve and they buy their licenses the day before rifle season. You can't blame people for exhibiting human nature," Mode said.

Both Mode and Burk said that when it works, the computer system is much quicker than the old way where a clerk laboriously wrote out the hunter's name and address on slips of paper.

Unlike the snafu that caused the DNR's automated campsite registration system to go down, the hunting license problem was attributed to software glitches, Meyer said. The campsite system didn't have enough phone lines to handle the initial onslaught.

Meyer said lawyers are reviewing legal options with the state's contract with Central Bank of Jefferson City, Mo., the firm that provided the new computer system.

An employee who answered the phone at Central Bank on Monday said the company does not talk to the media about its computer systems.

After the last two crashes, Central Bank changed the software and promised the system would be able to handle everything, said Meyer, who added that he has "grave concerns" about the same thing happening again. Part of the problem is that Wisconsin has so many different types of hunting and fishing licenses.

"They had to totally rewrite the software," said Meyer, who purchased his patron's license without any problem shortly after the new system started. "The number of licenses in our state, which is set by the state Legislature, is the most in the country so they had to substantially change their software. But they knew what our system was before they bid on it."

Appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Sept. 28, 1999.

-- Homer Beanfang (, September 28, 1999


Get 'em now, while you can.

-- Mad Monk (, September 28, 1999.

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