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SF’s brand new 911 call center resorts to pen and paper after computer crash

A group of smiling people watching a woman in a red suit cutting a ceremonial red ribbon.
Mayor London Breed attended the grand opening of the new call center on Wednesday ... hours before the computer system went out. | Source: Courtesy Department of Emergency Mangement

Less than a day after San Francisco held a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate its new headquarters for emergency call dispatchers, a computer system crash forced staffers to record crucial information on pen and paper.

Mayor London Breed joined top officials from the Department of Emergency Management on Wednesday to celebrate the new call center. Its opening boasts the city’s increased response capacity with five new workstations, a “new and improved” training room and an updated break room.

But by early Thursday morning, the computer system crashed for roughly two and a half hours, according to a source with knowledge of the incident. A department spokesperson confirmed the incident happened between the hours of 4 and 7 a.m.

The department's director told the San Francisco Chronicle the outage meant people had to run with handwritten notes to summon emergency crews.

An office with workers at computers, multiple screens, and TVs on walls.
A systems outage at a brand-new emergency call center caused staffers to resort to pen and paper. | Source: Courtesy Department of Emergency Management

The spokesperson said the computer-aided dispatch system, or CAD system, is at the end of its life. The city has selected a vendor for its replacement.

“We are always ready for this. We have to be, because there are many circumstances that can require us to rely on redundant dispatch systems,” the spokesperson said of the outage. “This is why the CAD replacement project is a top priority for the department.”

The department said the public should remain confident in calling 911 for emergencies while it replaces the system.

“We know outdated infrastructure has limitations and interruptions are unpredictable,” Breed’s office said in a statement. “Which is why investing in state of the art technology and infrastructure is critical and important.”

David Sjostedt can be reached at
Noah Baustin can be reached at