Erie County loses 911 wireless routers

Missing: Four little electronic switches. Bluish-black in color. One to two inches tall, a foot wide. Estimated value: $6,000. If found, please call Erie County Emergency Management Agency (dial 911).
Shawn Foucher
May 21, 2010


Missing: Four little electronic switches. Bluish-black in color. One to two inches tall, a foot wide.

Estimated value: $6,000.

If found, please call Erie County Emergency Management Agency (dial 911).

Hang-ups and snafus haunting Erie County's wireless 911 system have been near legendary this past year, but here's another glitch for the list: Four electronic switches for wireless 911, valued at $1,500 each, were lost or stolen on March 18 after FedEx supposedly delivered them to the front lobby of the Erie County Sheriff's office.

County officials can't say, unequivocally, if the four boxes of equipment were lost, stolen or simply never delivered.

The news comes weeks after county commissioners lambasted the Emergency Management Agency for its lack of progress on wireless 911, a project hobbling along for years without completion. Wireless 911 would allow dispatchers to pinpoint the location of those calling for help via cell phones.

Last year, 911 planners grappled with mis-ordered equipment, roto-tillers and tractors cutting buried 911 cables, and even 911 equipment spontaneously catching fire.

This latest bungle, however, baffles everyone.

Verizon, the county's 911 contractor, ordered the equipment from CISCO in Houston, Texas. It was shipped from Houston to the sheriff's office, arriving March 18.

A sheriff's dispatcher signed for the order and the boxes sat for at least an hour in the lobby before Bob Hall, the county's 911 coordinator, went upstairs to pick them up. When Hall got back to his office and opened the two boxes, he said he realized it contained only two electronic switches -- not six, as the delivery order indicated.

"In this particular case, the stuff was signed for upstairs," Walker said. "According to CISCO's paperwork from FedEx, the routers were shipped and signed for."

The sheriff's office searched for the missing four boxes, but couldn't find them.

"We turned this place upside down," Sheriff Terry Lyons said.

"I personally searched every room in this building," sheriff's Capt. Steve Westcott added.

"What it boils down, on the face of it, was it was lost," said Bill Walker, director of Erie County EMA. "If you go by the evidence, it says the boxes were delivered and signed for.

"I honestly don't think someone stood up in the lobby and grabbed four boxes and hauled (butt) with them," Walker said.

The equipment has limited uses, Walker said. It would be of no value for a home computer, or to the average guy on the street. Why someone would take it, if indeed it was stolen, defies logic, Walker said.

And yet, the truth may never be known.

Lyons said surveillance cameras in the sheriff's office archives video footage for just five to seven days. The misplacement -- or theft, or non-delivery -- of the boxes wasn't reported to the sheriff until April 14, when officials realized FedEx and CISCO's official stance is that the boxes were delivered. Thus no video surveillance footage is available for review.

The 911 switches are the size of laptop computers. They serve as mail couriers for data, assigning phone calls to the proper parties or computers in the county's 911 offices.

They're the last piece of equipment needed to complete the county's 911 puzzle. From this point forward, Walker said, the work on wireless 911 is all labor and logistics.

Walker and 911 coordinator Bob Hall said they reordered replacement 911 switches shortly after realizing the other switches disappeared. The replacements arrived this week.

The county's insurance deductible on the lost equipment is $2,500, Erie County loss prevention coordinator Maria Rupert said. The insurance will cover the remaining $3,500.

Wireless 911 is now moving forward, but Walker is reluctant to assign a completion date. It could be as soon as June, or as late as the fall.

"I think we see a light at the end of the tunnel," Walker said. "I just hope it isn't a train."