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Pittsburgh Emergency System Has A Few Bugs

New 911 equipment can't locate all addresses, including site of a fire.


PITTSBURGH (AP) -- The city's 7-month-old 911 system cannot recognize certain addresses, including one where a fire occurred last week, officials said.

Since December, the $1.6 million emergency response system has not recognized 76 calls from 56 addresses, communications chief John Rowntree said. He said he knows of no case in which emergency workers were slow to respond to a call because of the glitch.

"I think it's safe to say it's not life-threatening whatsoever," Rowntree said. He said employees fix the system every time it does not recognize an address to correct the problem.

Pittsburgh's 911 center receives about 2,000 calls a day. Address errors slow down the dispatching of a call by no more than 30 seconds, 911 center operations supervisor Raymond DiMichiei said.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette requested a copy of a log of reports filled out by 911 employees detailing problems they have had with the equipment, but Rowntree said he would not release it.

"The only reason that I don't want to give you the addresses is, I don't want anybody reading into this and thinking there's an ethnic group or neighborhood we're not paying attention to," he told the newspaper.

When an emergency call comes in, 911 officers fill out a form on their computer screen with the address and nature of the emergency. If the address is correct, the computer automatically identifies the nearest cross streets and the closest police, firefighters and medical help to the scene. That information is sent to a dispatcher.

When the computer does not recognize an address, 911 officers can choose another address, send the address to a dispatcher with a note or type in the codes for the agencies that should respond to an emergency.

Emergency employees are supposed to update the addresses in the computer constantly to account for new buildings so the computer will recognize every address in the city.

Employees rely on records from city and county agencies and lists to keep track of the addresses.

But in about 12 cases, the computer could not find addresses because they had not been added to the computer's address list.

In other cases, 911 employees typed in the addresses incorrectly, Rowntree said.

He said neither problem explains why the computer did not recognize an address where a fire Wednesday injured two residents and three firefighters. Firefighters reached the scene quickly despite the glitch, DiMichiei said.

When dispatchers type in the address of the fire, 33 Independence St., in the city's West End neighborhood, the computer responds with the message "Location Not on File." But officials said the address should be in the computer's records because it was properly added.

Emergency officials have asked Tiburon Inc., the San Francisco company that made the dispatch system, to look into the problem.

-- (, July 16, 2000

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