Council will spend $476K for a third ‘failsafe’ 911 server

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AUSTIN (KXAN) – A publicly-funded council of governments that oversees Central Texas 911 call centers will spend nearly half a million dollars for a third host 911 system.

It’s seen as a fix to deal with months of ‘glitches’ related to software installed last year at the region’s emergency operations centers.

“It’s software… you’re going to have glitches every now and then, CAPCOG Executive Director Betty Voights said. “It (Solacom software) typically reboots the way it’s supposed to. But we’re continuing to address those issues,” Voights told a meeting of the Capital Area Emergency Communications District Board.

The Board, made up of two dozen state representatives, county judges, commissioners and municipal council members voted to purchase the third ‘failsafe’ to ensure there is no repeat of the hours-long crash of Austin’s 911 call center mid-afternoon Dec 16th, 2013. Emergency sources said that happened when the Solacom brand software installed there in October went down at the same time a back up system was undergoing maintenance.

The crisis forced Austin’s 911 call managers to redirect emergency calls to outside agencies such as Round Rock’s 911 center.

“The two things we purchased today are going to specifically address those issues. We’re adding reliability,” Voights said.

Minutes from the Board’s April meeting show a third host system and test server are needed this fiscal year and the purchase is in the existing budget to ‘address network and equipment issues’. The $476,377 cost does not include future annual increases of $30,000 in networking costs.

The server money will be transferred from a $583,000 initiative that is no longer required – specifically the Commission on State Emergency Communications’ Enterprise Geospatial Database Management program, CAPCOG staff wrote in background documents

Board minutes also indicated a focus on current Solacom issues would not affect five-year planning for 911 services in the ten counties the Capital Area Council of Governments oversees and funds. Much of the funding for CAPCOG comes from membership dues as well as state and federal grants.

One of those longer term planning items is getting text-to-911 service up and running by mid-2015. Right now, mobile carriers are completing network testing according to CAPCOG’s Emergency Operations Coordinator, Gregg Obuch.capcog area map

Since February, a CAPCOG 911 Strategic Advisory Committee chaired by the City of Austin’s Wireless Communications Services Manager, Charles Brotherton has been problem-solving the Solacom issues. Staff and other stakeholders even had one face-to-face meeting with company representatives.

Board members say the Austin Police Asst. Chief who oversees 911 communications, Jessica Robledo also sits on the Advisory Committee. It’s not clear if she had an opportunity to brief Chief Art Acevedo who in mid-April expressed to KXAN his frustration with the Solacom glitches.

“I feel we’ve dealt with it,” Betty Voights told the Board meeting referring to the purchase of the new host system and server.

Training the telecommunicators

Meantime, CAPCOG will also be hiring back an Operations Coordinator to handle new licensing and continuing education requirements the state now requires of the region’s 700 telecommunicators. The CAPCOG position was cut as part of a 25% reduction in state funding endured in 2011.

In February, the state brought in new rules for all full time Texas telecommunicators to be state-certified. The City of Austin is planning for CAPCOG to handle that training this year beyond the call takers traditionally trained, documents show.

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