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Some 911 Systems Lapsed During Blackout

The blackout (search) disrupted emergency dispatch systems in two major cities, leaving 911 operators in Detroit hand-writing notes to distribute to police officers on the streets and cutting communications between New York dispatchers and personnel for spans as long as 14 minutes, officials have acknowledged.

The three extended New York disruptions -- of 14, 11 and 7 minutes -- did not affect incoming 911 calls from the public, but they cut off normal communication between dispatchers and emergency personnel on the street, said fire department spokesman Mike Loughran.

Loughran said the fire department, which dispatches emergency services, has a backup system that could relay calls directly over hand-held radios if necessary.

Residents in Detroit could also make emergency 911 calls during the two-hour computer failure, but the computer-assisted dispatch system normally used by operators to record the calls and dispatch the appropriate responders was down, said Jamaine Dickens, a spokesman for Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick (search).

The Detroit operators were left to write out the details of the calls on paper and distribute the information by hand to police, fire and emergency medical service dispatchers, but there appeared to be little impact on the response, Dickens said.

"There wasn't a delay at all because we had so many resources on the street and we were able to communicate with them and they could respond immediately," he said.

The problems in New York weren't critical, and city officials said no 911 calls were completely lost, but the city will investigate,  Mayor Michael Bloomberg (search) said Sunday.

But "any delay, any outage is unacceptable with a system like 911," Bloomberg said. "We've got to make sure that doesn't happen again."

The New York disruptions were caused by the failure of a backup diesel generator at the Verizon Communications office that supplies power to the city's 911 headquarters, company spokesman John Bonomo said.

The police department also experienced some limited problems with its hand-held radios in the early hours of the blackout when batteries for repeaters, which boost the signal between radios, ran down sooner than expected, a city official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

On Sunday, nine police precincts still had problems connecting to the department's main computer system, stemming from disruptions with cable modem connections.

Emergency workers elsewhere in the blackout zone also reported minor equipment problems, particularly with computers in vehicles, cell phones and lag time between the power loss and emergency generators kicking in.

In Ottawa, Canada, some police officers said they had trouble communicating with their dispatchers through cell phones and on-board computers and were forced to use pay phones, the Ottawa Citizen reported.

In Bridgeport, Conn., a patrol officer said one of the police department's buildings was down for a short time before its generator kicked in. However, governor's spokesman John Wiltse said state commissioners reported no problems with any of the "public service answering points."

In New Jersey, the police radio room in Paterson lost power temporarily, forcing the department to switch to a backup, low-intensity frequency to dispatch officers, The Bergen Record reported.

Overall, though, New Jersey State Police Sgt. Kevin Rehmann said, the outage appeared to have little impact on emergency responses.

"All State Police stations -- and I would suspect it's the case for most others -- have backup generators to protect their radios and other communication systems," Rehmann said. "All in all, I think everything worked well ... other than the inconvenience."

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