FEATURED IN PUBLIC SAFETY COMMUNICATIONS
It was supposed to be the last call of an uneventful night shift, but a simple typo brought alive the worst fears for Allegheny County (Pa.) 9-1-1 officials last week.
A 9-1-1 operator had the correct address for a call about a dying infant, but one missed keystroke caused the county's computer dispatch system to send paramedics to the wrong address, County Emergency Services Director Bob Full said Wednesday.
The typo resulted in paramedics taking an extra seven minutes Friday morning to reach 3-week-old Jordyn Anderson of Crafton Heights. She died an hour later.
The unnamed, full-time calltaker, with nine years' experience, is suspended indefinitely without pay, pending an investigation, Full said.
Part of the investigation includes working with the software operators and contractor, Tiburon, to determine what went wrong just two months before the company will finish installing a $10 million system.
"We're not standing here to blame this on a machine, but it is a very technical, complex environment here," Full said at a news conference in the county's Emergency Operations Center in Point Breeze. "This is our worst fear all the time."
A woman who answered the door at the family's apartment Tuesday declined to comment. No one answered the door yesterday. Neighbors in the two-story building declined to comment.
Anderson's "frantic mother" had called the 9-1-1 center just after 6 a.m. Friday, Full said. The operator took the information down correctly, but when she went to add an apartment number to the address by using the # symbol, she accidentally hit the @ symbol key.
"That triggered a series of events in the software," said Gary Thomas, assistant chief of Emergency Services and 9-1-1 coordinator. "We don't know why."
The computer system took the @ symbol as a command to change the street name.
Medics arrived at the wrong address -- 1513 Crane Ave. in Banksville at 6:20 a.m. -- eight minutes after the call for help.
They arrived at the correct address -- 1513 Crucible St. in Crafton Heights -- at 6:27 a.m., where they found the baby in cardiac arrest, Full said.
An autopsy is pending.
Medical Examiner Karl Williams said Monday that there was no evidence that the delayed response played a role in the baby's death. A Pittsburgh police investigation also is pending, police said. Full placed full blame on his own 9-1-1 center.
The call marks the third deadly incident in just more than 14 months that involved a failure at the Emergency Operations Center.
A part-time 9-1-1 calltaker in April 2009 didn't warn city police officers of weapons in the home of Richard Poplawski, accused of killing three officers who arrived at his Stanton Heights home. A Hazelwood man died during February's snow emergency after a city EMS worker at the 9-1-1 center improperly canceled calls that his girlfriend made, according to the city's investigation.
Tiburon is training county workers on its computer-aided dispatching system, set to go online Aug. 8. The county has asked Tiburon to change its current system to ensure that typos don't cause future problems, Full said.
Telecommunications officers never knew about the software problem before this incident, said Rick Grejda, business agent for Local 668 of the Service Employees International Union, which represents the center's 224 emergency operators.
"The union understands the need for an investigation and will cooperate fully," Steven Wells, chief shop steward for the 9-1-1 workers, said in a statement. "However, an unpaid suspension at this time is premature and unwarranted."
Reposted with permission of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.