RI - Computer Glitch Fouls Emissions Testing

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4.18.2000 00:07:09

Title: Computer Glitch Fouls Emissions Testing

The crash over the weekend, which left some motorists unable to get inspection stickers, was the most serious since the stricter auto-emissions program began in January.

By ARIEL SABAR Journal Staff Writer

A computer crash shut down part of the state's new auto-emissions testing system over the weekend, leaving at least a few dozen motorists frustrated because they couldn't get inspection stickers.

The glitch was fixed late Sunday. But the crash illustrates the vulnerability of all 263 inspection stations to computer failures at the program's Warwick headquarters. Computer experts were still working yesterday afternoon to identify the cause of the breakdown, which appears to have originated in a faulty hard disk.

Steven M. Davis, the owner of Stevie D's Automotive Service Center, in Warwick, said the problem forced him to turn away some 40 customers Friday and Saturday. ``We do 17 to 20 cars a day,'' he said yesterday. ``When you start backing up two or three days, then you have a lot of angry consumers.''

As for his own emotional state, he said: ``It's called the stressed-out shop owner.''

Officials at Keating Technologies Inc., the contractor in charge of the program, described it as the most serious crash since the state started the stricter emissions program on Jan. 3. They could not say exactly how many inspection stations were affected, but said the number was small.

``We certainly apologize to the shops and any consumers affected by this,'' said Paul Cherepinsky, the program manager. ``We're going to do our darnedest to make sure it doesn't happen again.''

Under state law, all 663,000 cars and light trucks in the state must have their tailpipe exhaust inspected this year for excessive levels of smog-causing chemicals. So far, about 115,000 vehicles have been tested. Some 1,500 to 2,000 autos are inspected each day.

The computer glitch affected a program that grants inspection sites a kind of electronic pass to do the tests. The stations need an electronic ``authorization'' from Keating's central computer for each auto they test, a mechanism designed to save Keating money by having stations pay in advance.

Station owners purchase these authorizations in batches of 15. But when they run out, they have to call Keating Technologies to buy more. Keating then sends the authorizations over a modem to the $38,000 testing machines at each inspection station.

But late Friday morning, a hard disk broke down. A backup disk failed as well.

Though Davis says that the breakdown was ``devastating'' for his garage, the overwhelming majority of stations had a big enough supply of test authorizations to get them through the weekend, Cherepinsky said.

Copyright ) 2000 The Providence Journal Company Produced by www.projo.com



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