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A software glitch apparently caused suspension of alerts to AED responders in more than 230 neighborhoods, possibly for three weeks or more.

The alert shutdown meant that volunteer first responders could not be notified if someone in their neighborhood was having a heart attack. They are trained to use AEDs (Automatic External Defibrillators) to restart or stabilize a person’s heartbeat before firefighters or an ambulance arrive.

Villages Fire Chief Edmund Cain announced in a memo that the system was restored as of last Tuesday afternoon. AED volunteers were not aware of the shutdown until an earlier Cain memo issued April 29 that attributed the problem to a technical issue.

But the glitch could date back to April 14, according to Larry Scovotto, vice president of sales and special programs for Ready Alert, the company that relays the alerts to AED volunteers. He said volunteers were not paged that day for a heart attack victim in The Villages. He said the victim was deceased and could not have been saved.

A Villages official said the ultimate fix could be switching the AED response system from Ready Alert to Pulse Point, a national company that uses a cell phone application to notify AED responders.

In the Ready Alert system, Sumter County fire and ambulance dispatchers flag 911 calls in which the caller mentions breathing difficulty or heart issues. AED responders in the appropriate neighborhood are paged to respond to these calls.

In an April 23 email from Lt. John Longacre of The Villages Public Department, Stephen Kennedy, assistant county administrator, was told about the April 14 incident in which the cardiac arrest call was not received by the Ready Alert server.

A recent software update had changed the alphanumeric coding on alerts, according to an April 28 email to Kennedy from Brittany Wilson, The Villages technology director.

Kennedy and Wilson worked to resolve the problem, running a battery of tests to get the paging system to activate in the proper time frame for appropriate calls.

In an April 28 email, Kennedy wrote to Wilson that the current system provided no confirmation that information sent to Ready Alert had been received.

Wilson asked Kennedy on April 30 if he could get the notification time down to 60 seconds.

“Ultimately, this is being approached as an interim fix,” she wrote. “We would like to explore utilizing Pulse Point for the AED Groups, but at this time there has been no communication to the residents on a change in process or vendor.”

In response, Kennedy wrote that at that time he could not get the system to respond in less than three minutes and that he would implement a new method of paging for Ready Alert to be notified directly through the fire stations.

“I do believe the new process of dispatching will reduce that potential challenge,” he wrote. “The call will not enter the queue until we have a greater sense of the full nature of the call. In the past, the 60-second dispatch time requirement forced the call takers to enter calls as medical or unknown if they had not confirmed the specific nature of the call. I definitely think having Ready Alert grab the notification from the fire station alert will provide you the highest degree of reliability they are receiving the notifications in a timely manner.”

Pulse Point, operated by a non-profit foundation, is based in San Francisco and uses a cell phone application to notify AED responders. It operates in many communities across the nation, including Orlando, Salt Lake City, Utah and Madison, Wis. According to its web site, Pulse Point has nearly 109,000 registered AEDs.

The phone app notifies AED responders within one and a half miles of the reported incident.

Kennedy reported to County Administrator Bradley Arnold on May 3 that a neighborhood had switched to Pulse Point and 88 of its 110 AED responders had registered with the company.

Ready Alert has been linked to the local AED system for nearly a decade. Scovotto said county officials have been trying to persuade AED volunteer groups over the past few years to leave his company and join Pulse Point.

Scovotto said the Neighbor to Neighbor system operated by Ready Alert has 5,000 volunteers in 238 local communities and the average response time is 92 seconds. Neighbors buy the AEDs and each volunteer pays $54 a year.

He said a flaw in the Pulse Point system is that strangers driving nearby could respond along with neighbors because the alerts are sent to all AED responders near the incident.

Scovotto said an information technology specialist at Ready Alert also has modified the software on their end so the problem won’t happen again.

Earlier, Gail Lazenby, a retired Villages fire captain credited with founding the local AED system, said he was told the lack of a written agreement between the county and Ready Alert caused the service suspension.

Scovotto said Ready Alert has a written agreement with the fire department but no agreement with the county and that the company’s CEO doesn’t like contracts.

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