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911 outage may not have factored in decision
Employees take county up on offer to talk
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Forsyth County News

 

Radio communication between the Forsyth County 911 Center and local public safety agencies was disrupted for about 10 minutes around Thanksgiving last year as a result of what officials say was power failure.

The Forsyth County News discovered the unusual interruption while researching the county commission's decision Tuesday to remove Pat Giordano as a voting member of the Forsyth County 911 Center Advisory Board.

The commission agreed to keep Giordano, who has served as director of the 911 Center since 2004, as a non-voting member.

The reasoning for the decision, which also included adding two additional voting members to the six-member board, were not fully explained.

Commissioner Todd Levent said during Tuesday's meeting that the human resources department had recently discovered the center does not have standard operating procedures and that some employees don't know their daily duties.

Thursday, Levent said he doesn't think the decision to strip Giordano of her voting ability on the board is linked to the system failure on Nov. 30.

"I think it's a lot of things combined together and finding out that they have not had a standard operating procedures manual," he said.

"All branches of public safety should have those in play at all times and the concern comes in that they've just been handing out memos that are called policies or new policies, the concern between the board became if there's no tracking them, how many of them possibly conflict each other."

The brief service interruption in November, which officials say wasn't the county's fault, meant authorities had to communicate by other means.

Levent said commissioners just want the center to be run professionally.

Giordano has maintained that policies are in place for handling the different types of calls for fire, law enforcement and emergency medical services.

Levent, whose wife works at the 911 center, said he didn't feel it was necessary to recuse himself from Tuesday's vote.

He said she is not in a supervisory position and has not come forward with any complaints.

At least two county officials have said that neither Giordano nor the 911 Center are the subject of an investigation.

However, County Manager Doug Derrer sent a memo dated Feb. 18 to 911 Center employees inviting them to "meet with and candidly discuss any matters you would like to be brought to the attention of my office."

Derrer asks any employee who would like to be interviewed about the workplace conditions to come forward, promising them a "professional interview setting outside of the 911 Center."

Any "allegations of wrongdoing and inappropriate workplace culture" will be taken seriously, Derrer wrote. He notes that Giordano has been thoroughly briefed on the process and is "committed to cooperating fully."

It is not clear what triggered the letter.

County spokeswoman Jodi Gardner said there were no formal complaints filed with the personnel services department to prompt the memo.

In an e-mail earlier this week, Derrer referred to the undertaking as a "climate survey."

"Something of this nature is not uncommon," he wrote. "It is a means of talking with employees and gauging the pulse of a department or organization."

Derrer added that it has been brought to his attention that there may be some 911 employees who want to discuss the department's operations.

"As county manager, it is imperative that I am responsive to such information," he said. "Thus, a memo was sent to 911 Center employees inviting them to share with personnel services any matters of interest to them."

Levent said Thursday he has heard that at least 27 people have either set up appointments or participated in interviews.

The commissioner said he has also heard that former employees who left on good terms tried to bring issues to light in their exit interviews but nothing was done about it.

"Now I understand they are coming back, a year or two or three later, willing to give additional exit interviews to help clear things up," he said.

While the interviews continue, steps are being taken to address the disruption in service, which Gardner described as "not a common occurrence for the county."

The 911 Center, which handles calls for the local fire department, sheriff's office and emergency medical services, is on the bottom level of the Forsyth County Public Safety Complex.

The radio system is managed and maintained by the county's information technology department.

Interim Director Brian Converse said in an e-mail Thursday that "the brief radio system degradation was generated by the failure of an AT&T circuit junction connection box, due to a power failure. AT&T took immediate action and rectified the issue."

He said the system was down for about 10 minutes and that "there were no hardware failures on the county's end."

Giordano explained that at the time of the failure, center employees were not able to communicate from the lower level with portable radios.

In the time since, she said, an amplifying system has been put in place to boost the transmission.

She also said the fire department switched to a backup system and employees were still able to communicate by radio that way. Supervisors with the sheriff's office were notified by phone of the situation.

"The 911 phones were up and there was never any danger or loss," Giordano said. "Radio and the phones are two separate things."

Giordano said beginning next week, the fire department's radio equipment will be reprogrammed, followed by the sheriff's office's and the 911 center's.

"Once we're done with the reprogramming we're going to do a massive training so that everybody knows where to go and how to do it," she said.