Glitch during upgrade causes delay at 911 call center

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The communications system at the Marion County 911 call center malfunctioned Thursday night, forcing police and firefighters to ditch their computers and resort to old technology.

13 Investigates looked into what went wrong and why other counties relying on the system are reporting slower response times.

Less than seconds after a dispatcher answers your 911 call in Marion County, information about your emergency is making its way through the elaborate system. A twist of wires, computers and phone systems are at the heart of Marion County 911.

But 13 Investigates has learned the age of the county system is beginning to show. The computers in city police cars, fire trucks and EMS units went on the blink, leaving first responders with empty screens for four hours Thursday night.

"We lost connectivity to the mobile clients in the police cars and fire trucks. That's an issue," said Communications Chief Tim Baughman. "Optimally, we want that connection to happen so that we can send those calls to the mobile."

First responders relied on radio and pager communications instead.

The problem first started as a result of a fix designed to correct glitches in a new computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system the city is working to bring on line. Workers were in the midst of downloading and saving data to transfer when dispatchers in Hendricks County, who opted into Marion County's system, reported as much as a 15-20 second delay in getting critical information.

"We want to get those calls out in less than a minute," Baughman said without excuse. "We can't spend a great deal of time on a call. Plus, it's important for fire and for emergencies where people aren't breathing or the fire's building and getting bigger. We need resources out on the street as quick as possible."

Chief Tim Baughman says, fortunately, there were no major incidents.

He says the new $6 million system will allow Marion County to integrate with Indiana State Police for the first time.

But work on the new CAD had to be put on hold until the more pressing issues were fixed. The big question now: "Will the old system hold up until the new one is in place next year?"

"We may have to back off technology and say 'Hey we have a way of doing this because technology is not playing well'," said Baughman. "We never put all of our eggs in one basket that everything's going to work 100 percent all of the time, but we do have back-up systems in place."

The 911 systems are back on line, but are being closely monitored for problems. The chief says most systems are replaced every 10 years. Marion County's 18-year-old system was last upgraded in 2007. The goal is to get portions of the new system up and running by next April and fully implemented by October.