Wednesday, April 11, 2012

County of Sonoma: Emergency 911 backup fails

Faulty rental equipment blamed for emergency dispatch system failure

The County of Sonoma's key emergency backup power source, which failed during a blackout Sunday night and caused the emergency 911 dispatch system to crash, was a temporary unit being used until a replacement system arrives later this spring.

“It was a rental,” said John Hartwig, director of the county's department of information systems. “Unfortunately this temporary solution encountered a . . . failure.”

Delivery of a new, $150,000 emergency power supply system is expected in about a month.

County tech crews have replaced the broken component in the $10,000-per-month rental. Tuesday the system was running properly but crews were monitoring it, Hartwig said.

The county will look into whether a refund might be due because of the equipment failure, he said.

“It's unacceptable when we lose critical systems,” Hartwig said. “This one was a fluke failure.”

The fluke started in Santa Rosa just before 8 p.m. Sunday when a wild turkey flew into a power line near College Avenue and Carrillo Street, sparking a blackout.

About 2,000 customers lost electricity, mostly along the Highway 101 corridor from College Avenue to Steele Lane and the county administration center.

The center houses the Computer Aided Dispatch system, which connects most of the county's police and fire agencies.

The uninterrupted power supply system is supposed to carry the load once power fails. That gives the generators time to start up and keep the county services running.

In a second fluke of the night, the system failed to carry the load.

County generators kicked on within seconds, keeping county buildings in power. But the drop in electrical supply to the computer system meant it needed a complicated reboot.


Emergency 911 dispatch terminals went black at the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office, which takes calls for Windsor, Sonoma and the unincorporated areas of the county. Just down the hall, at the regional fire dispatch center, screens also went dark.
The computers also failed at police departments in Santa Rosa, Petaluma, Rohnert Park and Cotati.
For about an hour, dispatchers at each agency continued to answer 911 calls, making notes with pencil and paper. They contacted officers and firefighters by phone and portable radio instead of computer alerts. 
About a month ago, county tech officials decided to replace the UPS system, which was about five years old, when a power surge caused problems. Such systems typically last 5-10 years, Hartwig said. The rental system was expected to make do until the new equipment arrived.
The faulty equipment also caused extensive computer problems at the county courthouse and jail on Monday, including the near closure of traffic court Monday and elevator failures at the jail.
While the impact was fatal to the turkey, no PG&E equipment needed replacing.
A crew closed the circuit and power was restored in less than 45 minutes.
The utility company tries to protect equipment from various elements, but problems from squirrels and birds are common, said Brandi Ehlers, PG&E spokeswoman.
“You can't really control nature,” said Ehlers.
Source: Press Democrat - Link

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