Replacing the aging 911 equipment in the Stutsman County Communications Center has been on the to-do list since May 2020. The need for that equipment update became more obvious when it failed for about 24 hours last week, according to Jerry Bergquist, Stutsman County emergency manager and 911 coordinator.
In the past, 911 outages have been caused by cut cables or other disruptions of the connections between the 911 equipment at the Stutsman County Law Enforcement Center and the world.
"This time the equipment failed," Bergquist said.
The problem started at about 5 p.m. Thursday, April 29.
"We didn't lose calls but couldn't pick up the (252) 1000 line," Bergquist said, describing the first indication of the problem that included the 911 calls to the dispatch center. The 252-1000 line is the landline number that people can use to reach the dispatch center for non-emergencies.
"It took about 20 minutes to switch to the backup regular phone system," he said. "We could answer 911 calls but it was just a regular landline."
When the dispatch center answers a 911 call, information such as the caller's phone number and location appears on the computer screens. By using a regular landline to answer 911 calls, that information was unavailable to the dispatchers.
"We didn't get location information but we did get to talk to the caller," Bergquist said.
In the meantime, technicians were busily working on getting the 911 control equipment operating.
"They had two technicians on site and one on the phone," Bergquist said. "They were able to finally figure out they had to remove some corrupted software from one console at a time until they had it all working."
That was accomplished Friday afternoon, nearly 24 hours after the problem began.
"We didn't lose any 911 calls," Bergquist said. "It is OK now but we really need to get the equipment replaced."
The 911 control equipment in place now was installed in December 2012 and has run 24 hours per day since. The control equipment is basically a proprietary computer. The model used by Stutsman County was last manufactured in 2015 and parts are not available.
The current plan calls for new equipment to be installed on July 19, although Bergquist said there have been delays related to the coronavirus pandemic.
"It could be delayed again," he said.
The disruption was treated as a learning experience by Andrew Kirking, incoming Stutsman County emergency manager and 911 coordinator. Kirking is replacing Bergquist, who is retiring at the end of June.
"From my perspective, I'm sort of grateful it happened," he said. "I got to observe how it was handled. Good insight on how it works."
Bergquist and Kirking worked together to update the procedure manual for handling 911 problems to reduce the time required to switch to backup systems from about 20 minutes to 10 minutes.