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Erie County, Verizon said steps taken to prevent another 911 shutdown

Steps have been taken to avoid a repeat of the failures that shut down Erie County’s 911 system for more than three hours on March 30, Verizon and Erie County officials said at a legislative meeting Thursday.

Efforts have been made to avoid a repeat of what happened. An employee, trying to rectify a problem with the air-conditioning system’s compressor control board, mistakenly pushed the uninterrupted power supply “emergency cut-off” button. That triggered the 911 outage, Public Works Commissioner John Loffredo said.

Improvements to the call-patching system have been successfully tested, said Tony Montani, Verizon’s network operations and engineering director.

During the system failure, calls were sent to a lone Town of Tonawanda dispatcher. Tests conducted after the fixes were made showed calls were sent to remote call takers at different law enforcement locations.

“We were really happy with the outcome of all of the testing,” said Marlaine Hoffman, deputy director of information services. “I’m really happy with the outcome since the events of March 30, and the progress we’ve made.”

The county will conduct tests every six months, she said.

Loffredo said the air-conditioning system’s emergency button can no longer be accidentally pressed. Now there are two buttons rather than one.

“Everyone knows they should not press that button,” Loffredo said.

But he declined to say the problem or a problem like it would not happen again.

“You can never say it will never happen when you’re dealing with things designed by man,” Loffredo said.

Majority Leader Joseph Lorigo, C-West Seneca, asked most of the questions at the meeting. He was not satisfied after the hour-long session.

“We are trying to pin everything on this button, and use it as a scapegoat, but the real problem we don’t have the answer to,” Lorigo said. “They say it’s not going to happen again, but they don’t know why it happened, so how can they tell us it won’t happen again?

“Either the county doesn’t know, which is troubling, or they do know and don’t want to admit it publicly,” Lorigo said.

The meeting was prompted by lawmakers unhappy over the failure of the emergency system. The county contracts with Verizon to provide all maintenance of the county’s emergency 911 system and its backup system, which are powered by the Public Safety Campus.

email: msommer@buffnews.com

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