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County's 911 system fails Monday morning

January 29, 2002

County's 911 system fails Monday morning



By MARLO BARNHART
marlob@herald-mail.com


Washington County's 911 emergency communications system failed early Monday morning, forcing callers to either fall back on old pre-911 phone numbers or in at least one case, go to an ambulance station to get help for a sick person.

As of 4:30 p.m. Monday, the service was fully operational again after repairs were made to fiber lines out of Cumberland, Md., that had been felled by trees north of Flintstone, Md., said Sandra Arnette, spokesman for Verizon Communications.

The first inkling that something was wrong came at 4:45 a.m. when personnel at Beverly Healthcare, a nursing home on the Dual Highway, called on the pre-911 phone number to say they called 911 and couldn't get through, said Bardonna Woods, an assistant chief of the 911 Center.

"There is a redundant system built-in but we still lost everything," Woods said, speaking from the 911 Center located in the basement of the Washington County Office building at 33 W. Washington St.

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"Normally we have an alarm system but that didn't happen," said Verna Brown, emergency management coordinator at the 911 Center who was called in when the outage was discovered. "We're not pleased that we didn't know."

Arnette said just about the time Washington County dispatchers were finding out about the outage, Verizon employees were too.

"Calls to 911 in Washington County were being rerouted to local law enforcement offices," Arnette said. Questioned further, she admitted that some callers might have been getting busy signals.

But Joe Kroboth, director of Washington County Emergency Services, said he called 911 several times early Monday and got dead air.

"Some may have gotten busy signals and others may have gotten through but I got dead air when I called," Kroboth said.

The lines from Cumberland, which were affected Monday, are supposed to switch over to the lines out of Keyser, W.Va., Kroboth said. But they apparently didn't.

As soon as the problem was identified, all emergency personnel in Washington County were notified to have fire halls and ambulance quarters staffed so they could respond immediately to calls.

"All were notified and manned by 6 a.m.," Kroboth said.

In one instance early Monday, Kroboth said, someone came to the Williamsport Ambulance Company quarters to report a person with abdominal pains needing an ambulance.

Hospital emergency rooms were contacted as were area police agencies, all of whom might have been contacted by frustrated 911 callers, he said.

Beverly Healthcare executive director Don Meyers said he was made aware of the situation early Monday.

"We have a very experienced staff here and they knew to call the old number," Meyers said.

That number - 301-791-1211 - was the emergency number in effect before the 911 system was established in Washington County, Brown said.

In nearby Berkeley County, W.Va., the same lines coming out of Cumberland were affected but because of a built-in rollover system, no disruption occurred, said Mary Kackley, director of the Berkeley County 911.

"The first we knew was when Verizon contacted us," Kackley said.

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