Dispatch center for fires falters (Orange County CA)

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http://www.ocregister.com/community/ocfir010w.shtml Dispatch center for fires falters COUNTY: Technical problem knocks out Fire Authority's power, phones and computers for more than an hour.

January 10, 2000

By RONALD CAMPBELL The Orange County Register

ORANGE  A technical glitch Sunday briefly shut down the computerized fire-dispatch system for most of Orange County.

The Orange County Fire Authority's power, telephones and computers all failed at 11:30 a.m., Capt. Paul Hunter said. The dispatch center's backup power also failed. Dispatchers handled routine and emergency calls manually until the system was restored at 12:40 p.m.

Hunter said utility and computer technicians were trying to figure out what went wrong. The dispatch center had never before lost its power, phones and computers simultaneously. He said he did not think the Year 2000 computer bug was to blame.

The rest of the county's emergency-dispatch system was fine, including sheriff's services.

The system is designed to dispatch firefighters and emergency medical technicians within "milliseconds" of a call, Hunter said. The oldest components in the system are less than 5 years old, he said.

During the outage, the four dispatchers and their supervisor used an emergency procedure intended for earthquake scenarios. They strung new phone lines to get around the failed phone network. They used battery-powered laptop computers with "fire-finder" software to look up callers' addresses and determine which of the Fire Authority's eight battalions should respond. Each battalion distributed calls among six or seven stations.

"To our knowledge, there was no interruption in delivery of emergency services," Hunter said. "We were able to accept all 911 calls."

-- OfCourseItsNotY2K (ofcourseitsnoty2k@noway.com), January 10, 2000


http://www.ocregister.com/community/powr011w.shtml Dispatch glitch cause sought

EMERGENCY: Fire Authority officials don't believe the outage was related to Y2K.

January 11, 2000

By JENIFER B. McKIM The Orange County Register

The Orange County Fire Authority on Monday was trying to determine why an expensive battery-powered backup system failed Sunday, causing a hectic 70-minute blackout at the authority's emergency dispatch center.

Fire Authority spokesman Paul Hunter said fire officials and representatives of the company responsible for the backup system  called an "Uninterruptable Power System"  will carry out testing this week to see what went wrong.

The system was installed in the early 1990s and was "very expensive," said Hunter, who was uncertain of the exact cost. Representatives of Liebert Corp., the system's maker, were not available for comment Monday.

The dispatch center went dark at 11:30 a.m. Sunday  lights, computers and phone lines went dead. The center is used to dispatch firefighters and emergency medical technicians.

Six fire employees quickly implemented a contingency plan by hooking up a telephone attached to an outside line, booting up battery- powered laptop computers and using flashlights to see in the windowless room.

Hunter didn't believe the problems were Y2K-related because the agency carried out testing before the turn of the new year. He doubted the possibility of sabotage because only known people are allowed into the area.

"It freaks you out a little bit but it didn't affect anything," said Hunter. "The big deal is we are wondering why the backup system didn't work."

-- Of Course Not (seeitsnoty2k@noway.com), January 11, 2000.

Since both the main and backup systems failed, this sounds like a software problem. Tests have shown that the same logic is used in software-based backup systems that is used in primary systems. This is necessary since the backup must accomplish the same functions as the primary. If there is a logic failure in the primary software program, then the same logic failure will affect the backup program. The Peachbottom Nuclear Power Plant had this specific scenario played out in its monitoring system during Y2K tests. This is one of the reasons why a lot of plants used to use mechanical or electromechanical backup systems for software-based safety and operational systems.

Might not be a Y2K-induced failure, but since they have been running for several years with no similiar failures, it does make one think.

-- Dave Hall (dhall@enteract.com), January 11, 2000.

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