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911 center faces tech challenges

Photo by Howard Reed

Photo by Howard Reed

COVINGTON -- It's been said computers are great things when they work, but when they don't ... well, it can be a problem. The folks at Covington Newton/County 911 have faced life without the benefit of their computer system for the past four days and, according to Director Mike Smith, were able to make the transition "seamlessly."

"We're still dispatching and we've just gone back to basics," Smith said Tuesday, shortly after learning that the system was back up and believed to be stable. "It's been business as usual. We planned for this and practiced this and when it happened, all the people who were on duty at the time kicked into gear and we never missed a beat."

Dispatchers went back to using paper and pen to write and didn't have a lot of information at their fingertips that they were accustomed to, but Smith said the public was never in any danger.

"Nobody's life was in jeopardy. It was a huge inconvenience to the public safety side of it, but the public saw no difference in our response due to the plans we had in place," he said.

Smith said the agency's CAD server shut down.

"It's a hardware issue, not a software issue," Smith said, adding that when the server crashed, there was some data corruption and the staff is now working to retrieve that and assess the damage.

"For the long term, we're now evaluating the health of the server so it doesn't happen again. It has been pushed farther than it should have gone. It's an older server and pretty heavily tasked. It runs seven days a week, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It's a little over 5 years old and all vendors are telling us it's just worn out. With electronics they don't give any warning. They just shut down."

Smith said a request for a new server has been made, but with the economy being what it is, the decision was made to wait.

"It will be costly to replace," he admitted. "It was something we would have liked to have done on this year's budget, but because of budget constraints, it was pulled out of the budget."

Smith said once they are sure the system is stable, it will be necessary to re-enter the data that was lost, which could prove to be time-consuming and costly. However, he's found a silver lining to that problem.

"Out of bad things come good things, and this experience has been a test of our training and our disaster recovery procedure, and it also is going to be a good training test for our trainees who are just starting on call entry," he said, adding that the trainees will benefit from the experience of re-entering the data.

Smith praised the efforts of his staff during the recent technical difficulties.

"I'm very proud of them. They've handled it very well and professionally. It has been a frustration, but it's been seamless," he said.