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Chicago's emergency call center suffers heat exhaustion

911 down, 311 up

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Chicago's 911 emergency call center was sent into a state of disarray Thursday after a power outage knocked the center offline.

An extremely hot power source is apparently to blame for the 911 shutdown. The faulty power source forced city officials to pull the plug on their communications center and reroute all calls to the 311 number usually reserved for non-emergency problems. During the switch, a number of calls were lost and after the switch too few 311 operators were around to handle the 18,000 emergency calls placed every day.

"There are fewer call takers at 311 than at 911, and for that reason the calls queued up and there was a delay there while the phone was ringing," Ron Huberman, the new director of the 911 center, told the Chicago Sun-Times. "Within an hour window, we fully staffed the 311 center with call takers and dispatchers from the 911 center."

Officials claim this was the first major crisis for the 911 call center, which cost close to $217m and has been operating since 1995. The problem occurred before an evening thunder storm hit Chicago, so it is not thought to be weather related.

The city eventually had the 911 system up and running again on backup power generators and expected to have the standard power supplies back in action later today.

The website for the Chicago Emergency Communication Center says the building "has been designed to minimize stress on the dispatchers and supervisors who work there. The Center provides a comfortable, high security, stress mitigating work environment, with ergonomic furniture and computer equipment, open spaces and natural light, and separate break and workout rooms."

We're sure the workout rooms came in handy yesterday as operators looked for something to do. ®

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