Nolan goes after Fritz over new 911 system failures during debate

Nolan goes after Fritz over new 911 system failures during debate
City Commissioner Amanda Fritz, left, and state Rep. Mary Nolan.

PORTLAND, Ore. – The implementation of a new 911 system launched in the spring of 2011 became a campaign issue Friday during a City Council debate.

City Commissioner Amanda Fritz came under fire when her challenger, state Rep. Mary Nolan, accused her of omitting and ignoring the advice of key stakeholders while overseeing the implementation of the new 911 system.

Nolan's accusation came in the form of a question during the portion of the debate at the City Club of Portland set aside for candidates to question one another.

In May 2011, The Oregonian reported that the $14.5 million system had "hundreds of glitches" and police officers had to waste time scrolling through computer screens to find the information they needed.

Nolan said as a result of Fritz's lack of oversight, police officers weren't able to read the information on their computer screens and were sent to the wrong addresses.

Fritz responded that Nolan's question was "so filled with misinformation, it's hard to know where to begin."

She defended the system, disputing that it put the public at risk. In fact, she said it has increased public safety.

"The old computer had green letters on a black screen. That was it," Fritz said. "The new computer has maps, which have increased public safety, increased provider safety by showing where the police cars are" so they know if backup is near.

She said she has worked with the Bureau of Emergency Communications (BOEC) user board to fix the problems, and she said the new system was delivered on time and under budget.

But "the evidence is clear," Nolan said. "Emergency responders were sent to wrong addresses, officers who couldn't read critical information on their screens in their vehicles, firefighters arriving at a burning building without vital data. ... These are not technicalities; they're failures of leadership that put providers at risk."

Fritz told KATU News during a May 2011 interview, that because of the numerous changes with the new system, "there're a lot of changes to get used to as there are with any new computer."

Fairview's Police Chief Ken Johnson was chair of the BOEC's user board at the time of the implementation of the new system. He went public with his concerns and, at the time, said the problems should have been fixed before the new system went online.

Johnson could not be reached for comment Friday.

The BOEC had a meeting shortly after the problems became public to fix the more than 50-priority issues, including sending police officers to the wrong addresses.

Tim Crail, a policy adviser for Fritz, acknowledged Friday that some of the problems may have been averted before the launch of the new system but there was a rush to get it up and running before an anticipated increase of calls during the summer.

"They were facing a situation where they needed it to go live before they got to the busy summer season – July 4 is the busiest day of the year for police and dispatch," he said. "They needed to have some experience; they needed to get the bugs out before they got to the busy season. So they were really under a time crunch to get it live."

But Crail said a lot of the problems weren't discovered until the new system was fired up for real.  He said the BOEC was able to get most of the 50-plus priority issues solved within six months of the new system going online.

According to The Oregonian article, the 911 project was passed to Fritz after City Commissioner Randy Leonard oversaw the initial planning for a new system.

Lisa Turley, the director of the city of Portland's BOEC, also could not be reached for comment Friday.

The issue was only debated for a few minutes out of the hour-long debate, and both candidates touted their accomplishments in their careers and public service. Fritz argued she should be re-elected because she has been a good steward of taxpayers' money. Nolan said she'll "deliver" for Portland residents, in part, by bringing together people who disagree and fostering an atmosphere of collaboration to get things done.

The race may be decided in the May primary.

Go to the City Club of Portland's Friday Forum Archive to listen to the entire debate.