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Westmoreland News - June 26, 2000

911 Service Interrupted in City, Three Counties

By Michael Hasch and David Conti


Emergency 911 officials from Pittsburgh and three surrounding counties want to meet with Bell Atlantic personnel today to discuss a failed phone switch that interrupted service for more than an hour Sunday.

The officials are especially incensed that it took an hour or more for an emergency backup system, which is supposed to be in operation within 10 minutes, to begin working.

Bell Atlantic officials last night promised a full investigation.

During the failure, residents of the city, Westmoreland, Beaver and Lawrence counties were instructed to use 7-digit phone numbers while technicians from Bell Atlantic attempted to restore 911 service through the backup system.

A controlling switch housed in Bell Atlantic's headquarters Downtown controls all the 911 calls for the city and the three other counties, said Randy Dawson, a director of Beaver County's emergency services.

Emergency centers in Allegheny County outside the city limits were not affected by the problem because they use a different switch.

When emergency center supervisors realized nobody could make 911 calls, they notified radio and television stations and asked them to alert their viewers and listeners.

Workers at the Pittsburgh Emergency Operations Center, who answer 911 calls for the city, were alerted to the problem shortly before 5:30 p.m. when two callers were cut off, Pittsburgh police spokeswoman Michele Papakie said.

Dawson said 911 operators in Beaver realized something was wrong at 5:20 p.m. when a dispatcher couldn't log on to the system.

"I called the 911 control center that handles the entire Bell Atlantic region," Dawson said. "He said the city is not getting any calls at all."

Knowing the systems are on the same switch, Dawson called his colleagues in Lawrence County to alert them.

Backup systems from Bell Atlantic were activated in the city and Beaver County by 6:30 p.m.

Westmoreland County was activated by 7:15 but it was not until 7:48 that the backup system began operating in Lawrence County.

Shortly before 11 p.m., the main system was back in order, Bell Atlantic spokeswoman Sharon Shaffer said from her home near Philadelphia.

Emergency officials said last night they don't know if any emergency calls were missed during the outage.

"It's very, very frustrating," said Sally Shuster, a 911 supervisor from Westmoreland County. "People could be out there needing our help and we don't know about it."

The city and other 911 centers can operate indefinitely on the alternate system, Papakie said, but it does not have enhanced 911 features such as caller identification.

The backup system allows a caller to dial 911 and reach the appropriate emergency operations center by rerouting the call through a 10-digit phone number.

Shaffer said Bell Atlantic officials don't know what caused the problem.

"Bell Atlantic will conduct a full-scale investigation into two things," Shaffer said.

"First, we want to know why the switch failed and then we want to examine the whole procedure for implementing the backup plan," she said.

Shaffer said company officials are anxious to find out what caused the delay.

Pittsburgh's contract with Bell Atlantic stipulates a backup system should activate within 10 minutes. Officials said that did not happen.

"We all know the switch can fail but we want to know why the backup wasn't in place like it's supposed to be," Dawson said.

Kathy Kraus, acting director of public safety for the city, said she and other officials planned to meet today with Bell Atlantic to review the incident and discuss why the backup did not activate sooner.

Frank Jannetti, supervisor of the 911 center in Lawrence County, promised to be there.

"They (Bell Atlantic) put our citizens and visitors in danger by not performing the function they promised us they could perform. It's simply not acceptable," Jannetti said.

City Telecommunications Director Hank Caparelli said last night's incident was the third 911 outage since the enhanced system was installed 12 years ago. Bell Atlantic was able to provide backup more quickly during the previous outages, he said.

"We had a problem with (Bell Atlantic) before," Jannetti said. "They assured us the backup was in place."

Jannetti and Dawson said there were various tests of the backup system to make sure it was in order and everything seemed to work well.

Emergency officials in the city and various counties took whatever steps they could to prevent a disaster.

Announcements of the problem were made on the emergency radios to all police departments, firefighters and emergency medical crews. Some volunteers manned their stations to save time in case of a call.

Ham radio operators were also alerted and asked to broadcast any emergency calls.

Tribune-Review staff writer Will Young contributed to this report.

-- (, June 26, 2000


Monday, June 26, 2000 Local news provided by: Metro Networks

911 Outage Was Widespread It's back to business as usual for local emergency dispatchers after a widespread 911 outage occurred Sunday evening. The outage happened just before six p-m, and affected the city of Pittsburgh as well as Lawrence, Beaver, and Westmoreland counties. Bell Atlantic says the problem was in two areas -- the main switch that routes 911 calls to the proper dispatching centers broke down, and then there was over an hour delay in the activation of the backup system. Emergency service was restored to most area within two hours. Dispatchers say they are not aware of any emergencies that went unanswered, and residents were given alternate phone numbers during the outage in case of an emergency. The problems that occurred are now under full investigation by Bell Atlantic.

PITTSBURGH provider=metronetworks&category=News&article=509504

-- Martin Thompson (, June 26, 2000.

Regional News - June 27, 2000

Glitch under investigation By Mary Pickels TRIBUNE-REVIEW Bell Atlantic had no explanation Monday for the glitch that left Westmoreland County and several other municipalities without 911 service for an hour or two Sunday night, although it appears to have been a telephone switch malfunction.

According to spokeswoman Sharon Shaffer, the utility has launched an investigation into what went wrong with the dispatching service.

Shaffer said the main Rockwell International-made switch that routes 911 calls to dispatch centers broke down, and there was a delay in activating the backup system.

The problem also affected parts of Beaver and Lawrence counties and the City of Pittsburgh.

``Both of those will be under full investigation by Bell Atlantic,'' Shaffer said yesterday. "Our major concern is determining the root cause (of the malfunction) and putting any changes into place as needed."

Shaffer could not say when the investigation might be completed.

According to Daniel Stevens, public information officer for Westmoreland County Department of Public Safety, the timing of the glitch was the only good thing about it.

"Weekends are - I hate to say this - the best time to have this happen," said Daniel Stevens, public information officer for Westmoreland County Department of Public Safety. "There were no major storms rolling through at the time. ... There were no major incidents beforehand and none that we know of afterward."

Westmoreland County dispatchers became aware of the problem just before 6 p.m., Stevens said yesterday. He said the system could have been down for a while before dispatchers realized that calls were not coming through.

"We've gone through the testing process and it's worked fine," he said.

But Sunday night the backup system that should be available 10 minutes after a failure did not immediately kick in. The 65 communities the county covers were without 911 service for at least an hour.

"It's not what we'd like to see," Stevens said, "but it's better than (being out until) midnight.

"Modern technology, it has its glitches. We rolled with the punches and hoped for the best," Stevens said. "Technology is human-driven - garbage in, garbage out. Somewhere along the line, someone or something did something to cause this problem. Bell (Atlantic) is the one to talk to about that."

When the problem was discovered, the public safety department notified fire departments, local police departments, state police and the media. Ten-digit numbers callers could use to contact the center were publicized.

During the outage, callers heard either nothing or a busy signal when they dialed 911. By 7 p.m., Stevens said, re-routing made contacting the center by phone possible again.

The 911 centers can operate indefinitely on the alternate system, but it does not have enhanced 911 features such as caller identification.

Area police chiefs said they were uncomfortable with the relatively brief outage, although no serious incidents apparently went unanswered.

Penn Township Chief Mike Mastroianni went so far as to call in an officer to man the telephones at the police station.

"He acted like a dispatch officer. I thought it was prudent to have someone in here to man the station for a few hours," he said, noting the office is normally unmanned evenings and weekends. The officer received few calls.

"There was really no reason for three police officers to be out patrolling when no one could contact 911," he said.

"I think the timing of it (Sunday evening) was about the best we could have hoped for," Mastroianni said.

"I had an officer call me at home (Sunday night) to let me know that 911 had advised him the system was out," Scottdale Police Chief Tony Martin said. "After talking with him, I dialed 911, just to see what would happen. It rang for about six or seven seconds, then it (system) rolled over.

"It could have been a very big deal," he said. "We don't publicize our number here (at the borough department) because a lot of times there is no one here (because officers are out on patrol). We would rather (residents) call 911."

In lieu of being able to contact 911 or an officer at the station, Martin advised residents to dial 0.

"Call the operator and advise them you need the police or an ambulance," he said.

Latrobe City Police Chief Charles Huska said the outage caused no problems for the municipality.

"We were fine," he said. "But Sunday can be a busy day. ... The potential was there (for problems to occur). We're happy that everything worked out."

Messages left for Commissioners Tom Balya, P. Scott Conner and Tom Ceraso were not returned yesterday.

-- Martin Thompson (, June 27, 2000.

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