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Power cut blocks emergency calls
By SUE CANT Thursday 21 December 2000
Melbourne was left without emergency call access to police, ambulance and fire services early yesterday after a power blackout.
Emergency lines went dead for six minutes shortly after 1am until an emergency generator restored services.
The six-minute crisis was revealed at the royal commission into the Metropolitan Ambulance Service yesterday.
The State Government yesterday was holding talks with call service provider Intergraph on the crisis.
While no callers rang during the critical period, noone could have sought assistance had there been an emergency.
The ambulance inquiry heard that some important call centre functions were out of action for several hours.
It was also revealed that Intergraph management recently refused the government monitoring body access to the call centres and repeatedly refused access during the crisis.
Des Bahr, the technical representative for the Bureau of Emergency Services Telecommunications (BEST) and a former Intergraph employee, said the centres lost all communications.
Mr Bahr said the lights went off in the Tally Ho centre at Burwood, where all communications were cut. The cause was unknown.
The computer-aided dispatch for police at the Victorian Police Centre was also uncontactable.
Mr Bahr said the police centre had independent power supplies, but call takers could not log on to the computer-aided dispatch system because of database problems.
Mr Bahr said he was contacted about 1.30am by Intergraph communications manager Bob Nathan, who alerted him to the problem.
Mr Bahr said Mr Nathan tried to override an instruction issued by former Intergraph managing director Greg Batchelor that BEST was not allowed access to the call centres.
He said another Intergraph manager, Graham Thiessen, later told him that there was "no reason for him to go in".
"He said it was under control and they were running on generator power," Mr Bahr said.
In case of power failure, the call centres have a diesel generator.
But Mr Bahr said he was aware of an incident in the past when the back-up had failed.
He said that Intergraph advised BEST that their technical consultants were not available until 4pm yesterday.
A spokeswoman for Intergraph said the company and BEST would complete a technical report on the incident by late tomorrow.
Ambulance officers are giving non-member patients free medical treatment as part of an industrial campaign to get up to 100 new staff and strict rest breaks.
The secretary of Ambulance Employees Australia, Mr Rod Morris, said ambulance officers were overworked and understaffed and were missing meal and rest breaks in order to keep up with their busy workloads.
The union is seeking designated and enforced rest and meal breaks and up to 100 new officers.
with ANDREA CARSON
-- Martin Thompson (email@example.com), December 20, 2000