AUSTIN (KXAN) - Computer Aided Dispatch -- otherwise known as CAD to law enforcement -- is considered mission-critical at Austin's 911 call center. CAD is meant to cut down on response times during 911 calls to police. In part, it automatically dispatches the officers closest to the scene of the crime.
"It's critical to be able to track where the units are and provide computer assistance so the dispatchers can see that information in a more organized manner," said Paul Hopingardner, the city's deputy chief information officer.
All officers in the field have CAD through their patrol car computers. During traffic stops, officers can also use the device to look up warrants crucial for officer safety.
A KXAN News investigation shows CAD has failed multiple times during the past two years.
On June 19, several men robbed Mike Mohebi and his teenage son. The father and son said robbers pushed them to the ground with a gun to their heads and tied their hands behind their backs with electric cords.
"With the gun in his hand he came toward me and I just closed my eyes and said probably he's going to shoot us and go," said Mike Mohebi.
The robbers didn't leave for 20 minutes while ransacking Mohebi's auto dealership in Central Austin. Mohebi said he was able to free his hands and called 911 minutes after the thieves left.
Here's the exchange of the first 911 call Mike Mohebi made:
911: "OK, you said you got robbed?
Mohebi: Yes, at gunpoint.
911: One second, let me get this thing started. You said it just happened right now?
911: It just happened?
Mohebi: Yeah, like one minute ago."
The call taker verified the address twice and said help was on the way.
Nearly 30 minutes passed and the Mohebis were still waiting for police to arrive. A frustrated Mike Mohebi made another call to police:
911: "...and you called 911?
Mohebi: I called 911, yes.
911: "The reason I ask is because I'm not seeing a call in for that but I'm going to go ahead and create that right now."
Austin police didn't get the message to respond to the robbery because CAD crashed at 1:15 that afternoon. Officers lost control of their mobile-in-car CAD.
The robbery at Mohebi's dealership was one of 758 emergency calls that came in during the failure. CAD wasn't fully fixed for 10 hours. During that time, call takers resorted to pen and paper to take down the location of the hundreds of calls that poured in during the crash before switching to CAD's back-up system. During the process, Mohebi's call was lost.
"We were waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting," Mohebi said.
Hopingardner said a hardware issue caused the failure and has been fixed, but during the KXAN News investigation into Mohebi's lost call, CAD failed again.
On Oct. 27, CAD was down for eight hours. Hopingardner said it was a software issue.
"On your computers at home if you ever reached a point that your computer locked up, the same type of thing happened. The difficulty is when your computer locks up at home you just push the power button, you don't really know why that happened," said Hopingardner. He said the city is working with the vendor and Microsoft to correct the problem but said "I definitely think CAD is working the way it's supposed to be."
KXAN News requested information through several open records requests, and found out from 2008 to date different components of CAD have led to what the city called "impairments," such as failure to perform records checks for field officers.
"It is a very large system. I wish I could say that every computer system was going to be 100 percent but that's just not the way computers work," Hopingardner said.
CAD has been down less this year than in the past, with 23 impairments compared to 30 in 2009 and 61 impairments in 2008. However, 2010 was the only year CAD significantly crashed not once but twice.
"The training systems are available and we meet hourly with agencies to make sure they are not having any issues, and they technically are able to still receive calls and dispatch them," Hopingardner said, but acknowledged "it's not the ideal thing anytime you have impaired services."
For Mike Mohebi, CAD crashes are more than just a close call and said, "The problem is if one of us were injured or somebody else was injured or bleeding, they would be dead second time you called and police showed up."
A supervisor with Austin's 911 said call takers answered 97.4 percent of the incoming calls in less than 10 seconds during CAD.'s crash in June.
Meanwhile, Hopingardner said the city has confidence in CAD and will continue to schedule routine maintenance, and improve the software and hardware components of CAD as needed.
Mike Mohebi is now considering legal action in his case.
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