Glitch slows city reply to property complaints
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Because of a three-week software glitch that affected the processing of calls to the mayor's response line, Pittsburgh building inspectors are rushing to address a backlog of nearly 500 complaints about overgrown lots and other neighborhood nuisances.
The software malfunction occurred May 3 and was corrected Monday, less than 24 hours after top information-technology officials learned of the problem, Howard Stern, director and chief information officer, said.
In the meantime, 496 complaints for the Bureau of Building Inspection piled up.
Residents phoned in the complaints to 311, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's response line for comments, questions and problems that aren't public-safety emergencies. The complaints should have been passed on to inspectors electronically, but, because of the software problem, they remained trapped in a cyber no-man's-land until about 9 p.m. Monday.
Mr. Stern acknowledged that his department was slow to recognize the problem. In the end, he said, no complaints were lost, and his department is writing a software change that will "trigger an alert" in case of a future malfunction.
"We are concerned that this happened," he said of the backlog. "It won't happen again."
No timetable for eliminating the backlog was provided, but mayoral spokeswoman Joanna Doven said building inspectors "will address this as soon as possible." The backlog comes during the bureau's busy summer season.
This was the second time this year that the software malfunctioned.
Matt Hogue, constituent services coordinator for Councilman Bruce Kraus, said the previous problem occurred in March and lasted six weeks. Mr. Stern did not know how many calls backed up during the first malfunction but said that backlog was smaller than the current one.
Mr. Stern attributed the problem to a faulty upgrade of a software program designed to make sure building inspectors get complaints with valid property addresses.
Mr. Stern said the complaints pertained to overgrown lots, tall weeds, debris, piles of junk and other neighborhood problems, not to public-safety emergencies. He said inspectors may know about many of the problems already and suggested that the backlog might be eliminated in short order.
He said the problem wasn't immediately obvious at the bureau, where dozens of inspectors and supervisors field calls from various sources, including council members and other city departments.
Mr. Stern said the glitch didn't affect the processing of pothole complaints for the public works department, perhaps because callers tend to provide intersections or landmarks, not street addresses, with those complaints.
First Published May 25, 2011 12:00 am