August 19, 2019

Penobscot County E-911 system repaired

BANGOR – Technicians had the Emergency-911 system in Penobscot County back on line at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday after four days of rerouting calls through the Maine State Police barracks in Orono.

Jim Ryan, executive director of the Penobscot Regional Communications Center, told county commissioners at their weekly meeting Tuesday morning that the problem was in the power supply, where electricity is routed to the communications system, built by Massachusetts-based Nortel International and purchased by the state.

“The problem was with the equipment made by Nortel, the hardware vendor that built the system,” Ryan told commissioners. “Their engineer swapped out the equipment.”

Coincidentally, he said, a scheduled software upgrade was installed successfully overnight from Monday to Tuesday.

“Seamless” is how Ryan described the rerouting of incoming 911 calls to the Orono barracks. The state police are the designated backup agency for Penobscot County should problems such as this one occur.

The cost of repairs will be covered by the state, Ryan said.

The PRCC system was the third 911 emergency phone system to malfunction over the past two months. It has left public safety officials, technicians and FairPoint Communications frustrated and puzzled.

Technicians tested equipment at the Bangor center late Monday and early Tuesday, Ryan said. In mid-April, similar but unrelated problems surfaced in the 911 system at the Cumberland County Regional Dispatch Center in Windham. Calls were shifted to the state police communications center in Gray.

The dispatch center in Gray suffered an unexpected shutdown in late May, a problem that was diagnosed as a software configuration issue.

Most systems in the state run on different technology and have not been affected, but it’s feared that the recurring problems are weakening faith in a lifeline that Mainers rely on to link people in emergencies with the rescue workers they need.

“We’re assured the problems are limited to those [few] systems and that the majority of those of us that have the other type of system don’t have to worry about it,” said Sonia Moeller, vice president of the Maine Emergency Dispatchers Association.

“However, these little things keep popping up. Yes, we are concerned.”

FairPoint Communications, which inherited the systems when it bought Verizon’s telephone network in northern New England in March, said Monday it was working to correct the problems at the Bangor center, which dispatches emergency calls for 88 public safety agencies.

“We’re doing the diagnostics and analysis again, trying to identify this problem,” said FairPoint spokesman Jeff Nevins. “It’s a priority for us. We’re doing everything we can to get the center back up and operating.”

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