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It’s the end of the line for ‘dinosaur’ phone system at El Segundo City Hall.

You’re as likely to get a busy signal as a ring.

If your call is transferred, don’t be surprised if it’s disconnected instead.

A few extensions don’t even ring anymore.

Welcome to the El Segundo City Hall telephone system.

“This is like an old out-on-the farm party line system,” says receptionist Evelyn Benedix, whose voice is the first to greet callers to city offices.

Direct dialing, a common telephone feature these days, is unknown in City Hall, and the 15-year-old system doesn’t have enough lines to handle the volume of calls.

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The few telephone repair technicians who know how to fix the system call it their “dinosaur,” and since many spare parts are no longer manufactured, technicians must fabricate their own or figure out how to make newer parts work.

Benedix is no longer able to dial 20 extensions containing the number 9 from the switchboard, although outgoing calls may be made from those lines. “The part that dials 9 is broken and there’s no replacement,” she said.

On Monday, the three lines into the Police Department service desk rejected calls all day. The phones rang but the calls didn’t connect, and Benedix had to route them to the watch commander.

Benedix would like to take a good ax to the whole system. Instead, the City Council recently voted unanimously to spend $265,000 for a new system after Benedix gave a talk about the old one.

According to A T & T, which will have the new system operating by the end of June, it will have direct dialing, a voice-mail message system and a digital switching system that will reduce disconnections. The number of lines will be doubled, and the police emergency operating center--used in the event of disasters--will be able to receive up to 40 calls at a time.

The city, however, is stopping short of the automated call direction system that many cities and companies use. “We want to provide a customer-oriented system with a warm body to answer calls,” City Manager Ron Cano said.

That warm body will continue to be Benedix, who, besides running the switchboard and answering general information questions about the city, also types purchase orders, runs outgoing mail through the postage meter and sells dog licenses.

She expects that the new system will cut the calls she handles by 50% and predicts: “That will help me get the rest of my work done.”


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