Published Tuesday, July 21, 2015 | 2 a.m.
Updated Tuesday, July 21, 2015 | 11:57 a.m.
Over the course of an hour on the evening of Sunday, June 28, 409 people called 911 to report an emergency to Metro Police. When they did, each of the callers encountered a troubling obstacle — a busy signal.
The Clark County Commission is expected to look into the outage — and how to prevent a future recurrence — at its meeting Tuesday.
Metro Police say that the technology used to run the 911 dispatch is too old to be maintained and needs to be replaced. But overhauling that system could take until at least 2017, a lengthy process that Metro is telling the commission leaves the valley in danger of a "more serious, prolonged outage."
Today, Metro is asking the commission to expedite changes to the building that houses the 911 system that would allow it to install the new technology more quickly. Specifically, they need to raise the floor to allow room for new cables and power conduits — and they don’t want to wait in line until the county completes the 130 projects that are currently scheduled ahead of the improvements at the dispatch. Instead, Metro is asking permission to conduct the project itself.
County commissioners have signaled they may be open to the request. "When people are calling 911 it's obviously an emergency,” commission Chairman Steve Sisolak said. “To get a busy signal is simply not acceptable."
Both Sisolak and Commissioner Larry Brown, who sit on Metro's Fiscal Affairs Committee, said they were unaware of the outage until contacted by the Sun on Monday, although Metro did publicize the incident at the time. Brown said he was expecting to get an update on the outage during a regularly scheduled briefing with Metro on Thursday.
According to Metro, the outage started at around 10 p.m. June 28 and lasted until 5 a.m. the following morning. During the first hour of the outage, 911 callers were greeted by a busy signal. Around 11 p.m., Metro began diverting 911 calls to dispatchers in Henderson and North Las Vegas.
Metro has been planning to replace the 911 system for several years and received funding in this year's budget to complete the upgrade. Renovation of the floors at the county-owned dispatch center near Russell and Decatur roads have been estimated to cost $400,000.
Under the county’s normal procedure, the project would be completed by its Real Property Management department. The department anticipates taking 12 to 18 months to complete Metro's request. Until the floor is raised, Metro can't start the 911 system replacement.
Brown admitted that government typically doesn't move quickly when it comes to long-term projects like replacing the 911 system, but with the recent outage, he said Metro "can't afford to wait" to address the problems.
"I don't think there's a higher priority as far as public safety goes," Brown said. "We can't let this happen again."
On Tuesday, the Clark County Commission unanimously approved a request from Metro to accelerate the timeline for a $400,000 construction project at the 911 dispatch center to make room for the new system to be installed.
Although Metro has taken steps to fix the problems that caused last month's outage, Chief Financial Officer Rich Hoggan said waiting to replace the system increases the chances of future disruptions.
The commission granted Metro the authority to manage the project itself.
Design work will start next week. Once the floors are raised six inches to accommodate additional cables and conduits, installation of the new $2.3 million 911 system is expected to take three months. The construction is expected to be finished by the end of the year.