Florida: Overloaded phone switch delays issue of new, renewed auto tags

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Overloaded phone switch delays issue of new, renewed auto tags Friday, March 31, 2000

By CLAY W. CONE, Staff Writer

NAPLES  If you got caught this week driving around town with an expired automobile registration, you may be in for a break.

A major systems failure has prevented county officials from issuing hundreds of new and renewal vehicle tags. The problem began on Monday when a dedicated phone switch in Fort Myers was overloaded and failed.

It wasn't until Thursday morning that the system was fixed.

Because of this, hundreds of local residents were not able to purchase their tags for new and used autos and boats, said Collier Tax Collector Guy L. Carlton. It also affected the transfer of title on the sale of vehicles.

As a result, Carlton has asked the Collier County Sheriff's Office and Naples Police Department not to issue any citations this week for delinquent tags. If a motorist is cited, Carlton said he will assist them in trying to get the citation taken away.

The outage was limited to the computer data lines used by the county tax collector's offices to send information to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. No other county agencies were affected.

The outage was felt across the region. Janet Dennis, a spokeswoman with the Department of Motor Vehicles, said that 14 tax collector offices were partially shut down in Collier, Lee, Charlotte and Highlands counties.

With the computer screens down, Carlton said his employees tried to work offline as much as possible. But that service was limited since the agency is required to adhere to stringent state auditing procedures.

"I refuse to violate good auditing procedures," Carlton said.

Vickie Potts, tax collector for Charlotte County, said that her agency was in a similar quandary over the past four days.

"This is not our computer problem. It's a Sprint phone company problem," she said.

Potts noted that a county office in Englewood that is served by a different phone company remained unaffected by the data circuit failure. That enabled officials to transfer registration information and staff to get some new auto tags issued, she said.

Officials in Lee County routed customers to other auto registration locations around town that were not directly impacted by the systems failure. While it did slow transactions dramatically, it wasn't a complete shutdown.

"All of our agencies are now up, with the exception of just one that doesn't really have any direct customer service relations," said Linda Jo Sanders, assistant administrator for the Lee Tax Collector's Office. "They are working to get that one addressed as well."

The circuit failure was tracked to a main switching center in Fort Myers, which relays information over the phone lines to the state Department of Motor Vehicles in Tallahassee.

Bud Brunker, public affairs manager for Sprint, said company officials worked "frantically" to get the system back up.

"We're not exactly sure what caused the problem," he said.

While March typically is considered the peak month of the tourism season, it's not any busier for the issuance of auto tags. Most vehicle registrations are due on drivers' birthdays, while commercial vehicles are renewed around the year end.

Carlton noted that it's not uncommon for such outages to occur for up to an hour at a time. But this was the first time one has lingered for several days.

"We're just trying to ask for everyone's patience," he said.


-- Carl Jenkins (Somewherepress@aol.com), March 31, 2000

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