Task force recommends $10 million upgrade to 911 system

Posted: Sunday, June 29, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) A task force is recommending a $10 million overhaul of Anchorage's 911 system.

Voters approved a $1.7 million bond for the new 911 system April 1, and the city is moving to train more dispatchers. But the Anchorage Assembly still must approve a 10-year, $10 million contract with Alaska Communications Systems to install, support and maintain the system.

At a meeting this week, Assemblyman Dick Tremaine questioned the cost of the contract and called for a public hearing.

Assembly Chairman Dick Traini also had questions about the contract. He said he supports the new 911 system, but wants assurances that the costs are justified and that the bid process was competitive.

''I've seen better care taken with a $5,000 appropriation. There is no explanation of why we're spending $10 million,'' Traini said.

The city currently spends about $350,000 to operate the 911 system.

The Assembly has scheduled a public work session on the contract July 11 at 3 p.m.

If the Assembly approves the contract, the new system would be in place by the New Year, said deputy police chief Mark Mew.

If the system works as designed, Anchorage's 911 system would be among the most advanced in the nation, said former Anchorage Mayor Tom Fink, the task force co-chair.

Problems with the current system were brought to the forefront when former state public safety commissioner Glenn Godfrey was shot and killed at his Eagle River home. The woman who shot Godfrey then shot Godfrey's wife, Patti Godfrey, four times before turning the gun on herself.

Severely wounded and in danger of bleeding to death, Patti Godfrey spent 48 minutes on the phone with 911 dispatchers before police finally located the home on Eagle River Road and rescued her.

The 911 dispatcher sent police to the address suggested by the computer using a caller ID-type lookup and ignored the address given by Patti Godfrey. But the address suggested by the computer didn't exist.

News coverage and a state investigation of the shooting criticized the city's 911 system and triggered a broad effort to correct the problem.

To correct the flawed address database, city workers visited 58,859 properties in Chugiak, Eagle River and Anchorage. Almost one in 10 properties had some sort of flaw, such as missing or obscured numbers, said John Rockwell, who oversaw the address effort.

The shooting also accelerated an ongoing review of the 911 system and prompted calls for more dispatchers and training.

The city now has 48 dispatchers working or in training. The task force recommends adding nine more.

The proposed 911 system offers a range of new services, such as technology to locate cell phone callers and a display showing call volume.

Mew said he believes the new technology will speed dispatch times, which are now under two minutes.

The $10 million contract includes the $1.6 million needed to purchase the new 911 equipment. It also includes $740,000 for the first year of support and operation of the system. In subsequent years, total support costs will be about $886,000 under the contract.

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