Dallas' upgraded dispatch system down for nearly three hours

By Tanya Eiserer
The Dallas Morning News

DALLAS — Dallas' new sophisticated multi-million-dollar emergency dispatch system went offline for nearly three hours Friday morning, forcing police and fire officials to revert to an old-fashioned method of sending police and firefighters to emergency calls.

"The outage occurred while a technician was performing normal maintenance of the system and was due to a technician inadvertently powering down the dispatch system," said Worris Levine, the city's director of communication and information services, in a release to the media. "It was NOT a dispatch system failure."

Friday's problems began about 7:30 a.m. when the dispatch system went down. While the system was offline, 911 operators wrote information on cards. Runners took those cards to police and fire dispatchers, who then sent out emergency workers. The system came back online shortly after 10 a.m.

City officials said no 911 calls were lost as a result of the breakdown. And they said they have made changes to procedures in an effort to prevent a similar occurrence.

To the police officers and firefighters in the field, the new system has been full of problems since going online in August.

The system has sent firefighters to wrong addresses and dispatched them to emergency scenes when other firefighters are closer. And it has inadvertently notified emergency workers that they don't have to go to an emergency call when in fact help is needed.

Police officers sometimes receive incorrect information on people's criminal records or outstanding arrest warrants. Correct information about whether a suspect is a wanted criminal also frequently arrives long after officers have allowed the person they were questioning to leave the scene.

Police officers are "fed up and wish they could go back to the old" system, Senior Cpl. Rocky Munster said.

In addition to human error related to the sheer complexity of the new dispatch system, city documents have blamed some of the problems — such as emergency vehicles being improperly dispatched — on the way the new system links to older equipment.

When the city decided to replace its 35-year-old homegrown emergency dispatch system with the new automated one made by San Diego-based TriTech, the city decided not to spend millions of dollars on the mobile software system that would allow the computers in emergency vehicles to easily communicate with the dispatch system at City Hall.

The city instead opted to build a bridge between old and new for about $640,000. City officials have since reversed course and have decided to buy TriTech's mobile software if the Dallas City Council approves it.

Records show that project could cost almost $10 million, including $3.7 million for the software and related expenses and about $5.8 million to replace 510 mobile computers. A pilot project to test the TriTech software is scheduled to begin next month.

Copyright 2008 The Dallas Morning News

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