Nashville’s 911 center gets back-up computer system after Christmas Day bombing

The bombing on Christmas day disrupted AT&T phone lines, but it did not cut off computer-aided dispatching at Nashville Emergency Communications Center.
Published: Jan. 1, 2023 at 2:27 PM EST
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - Two years ago, on the day of the Christmas bombing, AT&T phone lines went down impacting all calls to Nashville’s 911 center.

It stopped person-to-person communication, but it did not cut off the computer-aided dispatch, or CAD, system where calls are recorded.

If the chain-linked fence, number of hard hats or levels of scaffolding don’t give it away, renovations after the Second Avenue Christmas Day bombing are still a work in progress. Progress in on the ground and inside the Nashville Emergency Communications Center.

John Reynolds is the computer-aided dispatch administrator. It’s the system where dispatchers record each call’s location and reason. He was one of the few employees at the center the morning of the Christmas Day bombing when phone lines went down.

“With our call volume, it’s too hard to manage that many incidents and units,” Reynolds said.

“We were not able to take non-emergency phone calls, administrative calls for about 72 hours,” Nashville Emergency Communications Center Director Stephen Martini said.

He knew changes must be made not only to the phone lines, but the CAD system too.

“If there’s anything the Christmas explosion let us know is we are vulnerable if we have all our eggs in once basket,” Martini said.

There’s where Matt Polega, co-founder of Mark43, comes in.

“He (Martini) said, ‘I want to make sure that we are never in that situation again where we are going to be facing any kind of difficulty to the residents of Nashville,” Polega said.

Currently, when the CAD goes down at the center, the backup is a sheet of paper. Dispatchers must record each call by hand, at times logging 100 calls an hour.

Now, if it goes down, the Mark43 system will kick in.

“Realistically, dispatchers could do this from home,” Polega said.

All they need is a computer and internet connection and they won’t miss a call.

“It’s really chaotic here because phones are ringing and people are changing their workflow and they can’t use their computer and write things on paper, and then that piece of paper and run it to another position,” Reynolds said.

He believes the new back-up system will cover all bases if something like the Christmas Day bombing were to happen again.

“In an event like that, where you have increased incidents and double the units because of the event, this can be extremely valuable,” Reynolds said.

The Nashville Emergency Communications Center added more phones lines as a backup option after the Christmas Day bombing. The new CAD system is paid for by the Davidson County Emergency Communications Board. Martini said it costs a fraction of what a normal CAD system does.