Commissioners order audit of Pa. 911 center

Dispatchers were unable to page fire and EMS for more than a week after a malfunction caused the county's software to revert back to 1997

By Jason Addy
The York Dispatch

YORK COUNTY, Pa. — York County 911 dispatchers and first responders endured 10 days of communication breakdowns at the beginning of August, prompting calls for a deep look into the county’s 911 operations.

Two weeks after an at-times tense meeting with fire chiefs and emergency medical technicians on Aug. 9, York County Commissioner Susan Byrnes outlined six areas that county officials will focus on as they work to improve the 911 system.

In an online statement Tuesday, Aug. 22, Byrnes called for an audit of operations at the York County 911 center, a 911 community advisory board and investigations into paging redundancy systems and secondary backups.

York County 911 dispatchers were unable to page fire and EMS officials for more than a week after a malfunction caused software on the county’s communications equipment to revert back to Dec. 14, 1997. The paging outage did not put the public at risk, according to fire and county officials.

External audit: At the Aug. 9 meeting, Eureka Volunteer Fire Co. Chief Ira Walker Jr. implored county commissioners to conduct an audit of the 911 center under former executive director Eric Bistline, and the commissioners listened.

The county is reviewing a proposal from an outside auditing company to provide a “thorough and comprehensive review” of the 911 center’s operations, York County spokesman Mark Walter said Wednesday, Aug. 23.

County commissioners had planned to review the 911 center’s operations following Bistline’s retirement in December, but commissioners are prioritizing that review because of the recent paging outage, Walters said.

The paging outage “got people’s attention,” Walters said, noting there has been an ongoing review of the center’s operations and functionality since Bistline’s departure.

Redundancies: Most of those who spoke at the Aug. 9 meeting told the county it needs to implement a redundancy system that would have averted the long paging outage.

Without any countywide system in place to kick in when the communications system began malfunctioning, volunteer fire companies had no choice but to man their stations 24 hours a day to ensure they did not miss any calls for service, Craley Fire Chief Jesse Frantz said at the meeting.

Many fire companies used app-based paging systems, such as I Am Responding and Active 911, to communicate with each other during the paging outage, and county officials are now trying to determine if those apps can be used as a secondary backup, Walters said.

Despite the apps’ popularity and widespread use, Walters warned they are useless in some areas of the county, such as Glen Rock, that have large cellular dead zones.

“We are completely OK with responders using them, but we’re never going to be comfortable saying ‘Make that your go-to, primary source of getting calls,'” Walters said.

Officials also are in the process of setting up an advisory board that would include representatives from the Fire Chiefs’ & Fire Fighters’ Association of York County, EMS agencies, 911 center officials and Byrnes, Walters said.

Copyright 2017 The York Dispatch

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