Erie County lawmakers seek answers about 911 shutdown

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Steps have been taken to prevent another failure of Erie County’s 911 system.

“I’m really happy with the outcome since the event on March 30 and the progress we’ve made,” said Marlaine Hoffman, deputy director of the county’s information services.

The March 30 shutdown of the 911 system, which lasted nearly four hours, began with a problem involving the room’s air-conditioning system — followed by a complete shutdown after someone mistakenly pushed a “kill switch” for power.

And then there was a computer software glitch that prevented remote call takers from logging-in once calls started rolling over.

“The real issue that exacerbated the event is the fact that primarily there was one call taker able to receive those calls. So other calls were being placed in queue and not answered immediately,” said Tony Montani, Verizon’s director of network operations and engineering.

Gregory Butcher, deputy commissioner of Emergency Management for Erie County, told lawmakers during a one-hour meeting Thursday that it was a failure that involved a three phase operation.

“Indirectly it relates to Verizon because they utilize that particular vendor for that software. But that vendor that they utilize has made the adjustments to that software program,” Butcher said.

But some county lawmakers are not satisfied with what they heard, and are expressing little confidence that it won’t happen again.

“Calls were re-routed, but our dispatchers weren’t able to log-in and answer the calls,” said Legislature Majority Leader Joseph Lorigo, C-West Seneca. “What I don’t know is why. And that’s the question that should be answered. That’s the question I asked several times and there was still no answer given.”

Since the system failure, the county has spent close to $100,000 on upgrades — including the air-conditioning system, according to DPW Commissioner John Loffredo.

“We overhauled that. Got it running both stages…replaced the control panel which was really the problem that set everything off,” he said.

Legislator Edward Rath III told those in attendance that “safety” and “well-being” were at risk during those hours the 911 system went down.

“Thank God nothing tragic happened. But it could have. Now we need to do everything in our power as legislators and as public officials to make sure that never happens again,” Rath said.

Rath requested that 911 officials report back to lawmakers in six months after additional testing is done.

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