The rollout of Suffolk police’s high-tech 911 system hit a glitch this week, sending cops and operators back to “dark age” technology: pen and paper.

Police officials threw the switch on the $1.9-million call center — with interactive GPS maps and other gizmos — shortly after 5 a.m. Tuesday. Within an hour, it froze and had to be shut down, said Deputy Chief Christopher Bergold.

With technicians trying to figure out what went wrong, 911 operators and dispatchers at the call center had to activate the backup system: writing caller information on preprinted cards, with red ink signifying the high-priority emergencies.
The cards were handed to couriers, who rushed them to dispatchers, who radioed cops.

“You got a lot of people running back and forth,” said a call center worker who asked not to be identified.

Bergold emphasized the new system's vast improvements over the decades-old system.
“This is going to be a significant improvement to the service of the people of this county,” he said. “Any rollout of a system of this magnitude is going to have some issues ... but we were prepared for them.”
The center’s phones were not affected, and by early afternoon, the system was back online, although the mobile units and a new computer link to a fire-and-rescue call center remained down on Wednesday night.

The new 911 system uses an updated database of each county address, and alerts dispatchers of the nearest police units to minimize response time. It can display satellite images and suggests locations of callers based on their description. The upgrade follows upgraded radios installed in the 911 center in January and new phone systems in 2008.
The system vendor, Intergraph Corp., was calling in technicians from out of state to do upgrade software on about 450 cruisers and other vehicles starting early Thursday.
Bergold said he was confident the problem – something to do with data packets coming from the laptops – would be fixed by the afternoon.

Third Precinct Officer and PBA representative Joe Link said he started getting messages early Tuesday from cops about the computers being down and delays getting to low-priority calls. Without the computers, he said, cops were forced to write down addresses and other information as it came in over the radio.

With extra staff on hand, there were no significant delays in service, Bergold said. He said the only 911 response problem he was aware of was one incident of officers being sent to the same address twice.

With Will Van Sant

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