Emergency dispatch center struggles with radio problems

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Emergency dispatch center struggles with radio problems

By Associated Press, 2/11/2000 02:17

AUBURN, Maine (AP) A high-tech 911 center for Auburn and Lewiston was supposed to improve responses to emergency calls, but some police officers say it's just a matter of time before it causes disaster.

Police from the two cities are using digital radios that they say frequently encounter dead spots where they can't communicate with each other or with dispatchers.

Lewiston police officer Matt Cashman remembers chasing a suicidal suspect around Lake Auburn last summer. He hit a dead spot and ended up on his own while pursuing the suspect in the woods.

''For eight minutes, they didn't know where I was,'' Cashman said.

Auburn police officer Tom Slivinski recalls an incident last year when he was trying to get help for a 13-year-old girl. She had fallen 50 feet and had broken both wrists and hurt her head and chest. Slivinski says it took several minutes for emergency workers to get to her because his digital radio didn't work from where he found her.

''The dispatchers don't hear us half the time. Or they think we say something we didn't say. It happens on a daily basis,'' he said.

The $1 million consolidated dispatch center went into service in 1996. The digital radio technology cost about $495,000.

The fire departments switched back to the old analog radio system after the consolidation, but police can't fall back on analog when the digital system fails them.

The problem with the radios might simply be fixed with a new tower. The flood of pager and cellular phone calls that hit the towers on Goff Hill can interfere with police communications.

Officials at the 911 center acknowlege there have been difficulties. They say they're looking for a location for a new tower, but won't say when it will be built.

''There are problems, and I'm not going to say there's not. There are some issues, but they're all being addressed,'' said Mike Morin, a former Auburn police officer who took over as the center's director this year.

Meanwhile, some say the equipment wasn't field tested and that the tower should have been erected years ago.

Former dispatcher Pat Beauchesne said she's surprised no one has been seriously hurt or killed because of the new system. She was fired from the center last year after she filed a civil complaint that has since been dimissed that claimed there were problems with radios, lighting, heating and staff.

She describes how in 1996 two Lewiston fires got out of control because of radio problems.

''I worked during that fire without being able to hear any of the mutual aid calls,'' Beauchesne said.

-- Homer Beanfang (Bats@inbellfry.com), February 11, 2000


http://www.denv erpost.com/business/biz0205c.htm

US West plan includes 911 upgrade

By Andrew Backover Denver Post Business Writer

Feb. 5 - US West said Friday that it will spend $40 million to improve its emergency 911 system and its phone service network in problematic sections of Colorado.

The plan stems from an agreement reached last year between the Baby Bell and state regulators, in which U S West gained pricing flexibility by promising $124 million in customer benefits.

U S West, which last month was ordered to pay $12.8 million in customer refunds by Colorado regulators, said it will spend $2.5 million to speed up delivery of calls to 911 answering centers and improve 911 call routing to compensate for cable cuts and outages.

U S West will spend $24 million for new equipment and fiber-optic cables in rural areas. The fixes would make about 100,000 rural lines less dependent on less-reliable radio connections.

"If the radio fails, and this technology is a little old and susceptible, they have a second path through the fiber to route calls," Colorado Public Utilities Commission spokesman Terry Bote said.

"Now you will have the ability to bypass those things to prevent outages."

The investments, which would also help handle more calls, would benefit Craig, Hayden, Steamboat Springs, Kremmling, Hot Sulfur Springs, Granby, Durango, Mancos, Cortez, Montrose, Ridgway, Ouray, Telluride, South Fork, Salida, Buena Vista, Del Norte, Monte Vista, Alamosa, Limon and Black Forest.

The balance of the $40 million will improve existing fiber optic cables between Trinidad and Colorado Springs along Interstate 25, and between Denver and Sterling.

The proposal was filed by the Baby Bell, Colorado's Office of Consumer Counsel and the staff of the PUC.

-- Homer Beanfang (Bats@inbellfry.com), February 11, 2000.

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