March 16, 2010

County resumes handling 911 calls

DAVID HENCH

— By

Staff Writer

The 17 towns covered by the Cumberland County Regional Communications Center are back to having 911 calls go directly to county dispatchers.

State officials had ordered the county center to stop taking calls directly after its 911 system shut down for periods on Friday and Saturday. All 911 calls were diverted to the state dispatch facility in Gray, then transferred to the county center, until state officials were confident the shutdown problem was fixed.

County communications director Bill Holmes said the problem was repaired and the system was up and running at the county center in Windham at 1 p.m. Thursday.

''Frankly, what it does is reduce the time'' it takes for a 911 call to generate an emergency response, he said.

Holmes said multiple tests were performed to make sure the county's 911 system was working. After the switch, several actual 911 calls were received, including reports of a fire Thursday afternoon in Raymond, and the system performed as expected.

FairPoint Communications spokesman Jeff Nevins said the problem was traced to some hardware installed in the county's 911 system on March 24. It appeared that a 10 megabyte component was installed in a connection designed to handle a 100 megabyte component, which made the system unstable, he said.

The system appeared to be working, but shut down on April 17. The system was restored and thought to be working again, but shut down several times late last week.

The vendor that provided the computer apparatus that operates the county's 911 system, which was installed under FairPoint's predecessor, Verizon, was summoned from California. Technicians worked around the clock for the past week to diagnose the problem, Nevins said, doing a component-by-component analysis made more difficult because the problem was intermittent.

''The system didn't just shut down and then not come back up,'' he said.

Technicians still don't know what factors caused the system software to malfunction when it did.

Nevins said there are six identical systems operating elsewhere in Maine that have experienced no problems.

The county also has a mechanism now that allows it to immediately route 911 calls to the state center if future problems occur. The mechanism, similar to a light switch, should eliminate the lengthy delays that occurred during the switch to the backup system last weekend. One delay of about an hour left residents in 17 towns without 911 service. If they dialed the emergency number, it rang but was not answered.

The delay was traced to miscommunication between a FairPoint customer service worker and a technician.

This week, some people whose 911 calls went to the state center, including people who reported Tuesday's fatal fire in Gorham, worried that the system wasn't working well because calls went to the state before they were transferred to the county. The county placed at least one caller on hold while directing firefighters to the fire.

Holmes said an inquiry by Gorham Fire Chief Bob Lefebvre and Gorham police found no problem with 911 callers getting through to the state center. He said the calls were all transferred rapidly and without problems to the county center that dispatched firefighters.

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

dhench@pressherald.com

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