911 Server Failure in Tallahassee Leaves Residents at Risk

911 Call CenterA failure of computer servers at the recently completed Public Safety Complex in Tallahassee is leaving emergency services providers there with some uncomfortable questions. The $47.5 million complex is equipped with state-of-the-art technologies, and was meant to offer improved around-the-clock dispatch services to residents. However, after its servers failed and the backup system failed to trip, more than 30 calls were left unanswered. While the system recorded the data from the calls, the system remained down for approximately two-hours, leaving all of the calls unanswered until after the issues had passed. Luckily, there are no reports of any fatalities resulting from the undelivered dispatch calls.

Not the First Issue Caused by Server Failures
The issue in Tallahassee isn’t the first server failure that lead to problems, though it is notable in that it affected an essential service. Similar issues have been reported across the world, seemingly at an increasing clip. A courthouse in Miami County, Indiana has been dealing with the repercussions of a server failure for weeks now. After software and hardware issues lead to the governmental system crashing, private information, everything from arrest records to driver’s license information, was made available to other departments within the county and private citizens who had no authorization to view said records.

The issues aren’t just stateside. A hospital in New Zealand was made to apologize recently after its own server issues caused the loss of thousands of mammograms for over 3,850 patients. Like the issues with Tallahassee’s emergency services center, the hospital’s issues have implications on health, with each mammogram looked at in a sequence to track any tumorous growth in breast tissue.

“It’s very important for companies to make sure that their servers are properly installed in each enclosure, and that every server is being cooled within the enclosure,” explains Marcos Garza, CEO of Global 1 Resources. “Failure to do so can lead to overheating, which leads to a domino effect. Maintaining the server, and making sure that it is properly mounted and cooled is very important.”

New Technologies May Render Server Failures a Thing of the Past
While it seems that server failures may only continue to rise as the world becomes increasingly virtual, the fact is that existing technologies and ongoing research is leading us to a computer-saturated world where these risks can be limited, if not eliminated altogether. The first line of defense doesn’t require any great leap forward in technology either. Many businesses, especially those that provide emergency and health services, are pushing for qualitative standards in their own server usage. Hospitals, for example, can benefit from using high-end hard-drives, processors, memory, and other components, along with redundancy setups to avoid outages. Even something as simple as the server racks chosen to store their server systems can have a significant impact on stability.

That being said, many tech companies have realized that relying on hardware alone is something of an antiquated notion — one that only delays the inevitable. The development of so-called resilient processors and software, on the other hand, could defeat the issue altogether. Whereas now it takes a significant performance issue to make data and hardware issues noticeable, the development of new software that can detect data corruption, failing components, and the like in near real-time will undoubtedly move us toward a future where we don’t need to worry about the issues caused by system failure.

Even so, just how many emergency calls will go unanswered before we get to that point?

Sources:

http://www.tallahassee.com/article/20140228/NEWS01/302280011/Partial-failure-server-interrupts-911-call-taking

http://www.kokomotribune.com/local/x1196444095/Server-crash-still-causing-problems-in-Miami-Co

http://www.stuff.co.nz/southland-times/news/9742387/Mammogram-images-lost-in-server-failure

http://searchdatacenter.techtarget.com/tip/Resilient-processor-technologies-combat-server-failure

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