911 system update deleted unknown number of addresses from Ga. system
Could take more than a week to add information back into system
By Megan Matteucci
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
DEKALB COUNTY — It will take at least another 10 days for DeKalb County to restore addresses omitted from its computerized 911 system.
A joint investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and WSB-TV found that the county doesn't know how many addresses are missing from its emergency system.
DeKalb officials said some of the addresses were deleted in April when the county upgraded the software for its Computer-Aided Dispatch Center, which handles all 911 calls.
However, DeKalb didn't discover the problem until May 21, when Travis Hite had to wait 34 minutes for an ambulance.
Hite, 33, said he had gone into anaphylactic shock after having an allergic reaction to pine nuts. A 911 call indicates that Hite's fiancee repeated the address multiple times, including the name of the apartment complex, the exact street address and the closest intersections. However, dispatchers still could not locate the couple's Briarwood Road apartment, which is off Buford Highway.
Records of the call show dispatchers listed his home as Briarwood Drive --- not Briarwood Road. The system also only listed a Briarwood Road in Rockdale and Cobb counties, not in DeKalb.
Recordings of the dispatchers also show the operators arguing with ambulance crews over which fire station is closest to Hite's home.
During the confusion, Hite was able to use an EpiPen and give himself an injection while waiting for the paramedics.
"It's kind of bewildering and scary. They don't know how many addresses aren't in their system," Hite told the AJC on Wednesday. "The only way to find out is if you have an emergency and it takes EMTs 30 minutes. If I didn't have that EpiPen, I surely would have been dead."
After the problem with Hite's call, officials learned that a range of addresses near Hite's apartment on Briarwood Road were affected during the upgrade, DeKalb Public Safety Director William "Wiz" Miller said Wednesday.
"We added this address as soon as it was discovered," Miller wrote to the AJC.
InterAct Public Safety and the county's Geographic Information Systems employees updated the CAD software in April, including adding the latest mapping software, aerial photos and a master street address guide, Miller said.
During the upgrade, the software kept shutting down in the middle of calls and addresses were deleted, Miller said. InterAct fixed the software problem several weeks ago, but they didn't know about the addresses.
Since Hite's call, InterAct and county workers have been working to identify and verify all addresses that have been omitted or changed, Miller said.
"We immediately put in place a process to manually override any address discrepancies that were encountered," Miller wrote to the AJC Wednesday. "The validation process is being done manually, but expeditiously."
Workers are validating 26,368 separate street blocks and 9,700 streets. They expect to complete this process by the end of next week, Miller said.
So far, the county has only discovered one other address deleted. This was found during the repair process and not during a call for service, Miller said.
Officials say there is no cost to taxpayers because the work is being handled by the county.
But there was nearly a huge cost to Hite.
"The most amazing thing is if I order a pizza from the local pizza delivery guy, I give them my address and no directions, they can be to my place in 10 to 15 minutes. That's delivering a pizza," he said. "How is it that DeKalb County spends millions of dollars on this system and they still can't find my house?"
Meanwhile, DeKalb has launched an investigation into several other delayed responses with its 911 system. With one of those calls, officials found dispatchers failed to put all of the address information into the system. Three dispatchers have since been disciplined.
DeKalb also terminated its contract with Care Ambulance, saying their ambulance crews failed to follow policy and had three delayed responses. Care denies those claims. Care was not involved with Hite's call.
Care and Hite have asked the county to conduct an independent audit of the 911 system. On Tuesday, a spokeswoman for the county CEO said no audit will be done. The county commission said it is considering the request.
"We're talking about people's lives. That DeKalb doesn't want to do an audit is a red flag," Hite said. "They apologized and they all say it will all be addressed with new training programs. But as far as anything concrete being done, I haven't heard anything."
Hite has since added a land line phone in his apartment to prevent having to call 911 from a cellphone. He also has told his fiancee and friends not to bother calling 911 and to take him directly to the hospital if he has another allergic reaction.
"I'm not going to gamble with EMTs not showing up," he said.
Copyright 2010 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution