Another City of Portland computer mess?
A reader identifying himself as Jim Churchill, a retired systems analyst for the City of Portland Bureau of Emergency Communications, has sent us this troubling report:
On Sunday morning, April 17, 2011 about 3 am, the City Bureau of Emergency Communications (assisted by the Bureau of Technology Services) turned on its new Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) computer to process 9-1-1 calls for the city and all public safety agencies in Multnomah County. Also activated was a new Mobile Data System for police, fire, and emergency medical services units.
Here are some links describing the system:
1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6
The previous Northrop Grumman CAD system was very dependable and running almost flawlessly on HP Alpha DS25 hardware, with redundancy in multiple sites. Since the cutover on April 17, the new CAD system has failed at least 4 or 5 times with downtimes ranging from 45 minutes to several hours.
User reaction is mixed. Dispatchers and supervisors at BOEC were forced to learn a completely new system and lost many customized features that had been added over the 17-year life of the previous CAD system. Police officers have been ordered to pull their cars over to run queries because it takes more than one finger push to make a query on a license plate or to look at a dispatch incident. A user-friendly command line system on the previous system has been replaced with a more complex series of push buttons.
Fire users seem to be satisfied with the new system because as soon as they are dispatched, a map of the location is instantly transmitted to the responding units.
The new system cost at least $15 million, including hiring a consultant (IE Solutions) to write an RFP and manage the implementation for a cost of $2 million. The original funding came through council budgeting $4 million per year for three years, but Mayor Adams grabbed the dedicated CAD fund and created another bond to fund this project, which of course will cost taxpayers more over the long run.
The 9-1-1 director, Lisa Turley, ordered the consultant to alter the report to recommend the implementation of a new "off the shelf" CAD system. She deliberately failed to present two viable options to the City Council which would have been considerably cheaper:
#1 Upgrade the existing Northrop Grumman system to the latest HP hardware and keep all the customizations. Cost $500,000. No training involved so overtime costs would have been non-existent. This upgrade path has been done successfully by Lake Oswego, City of Phoenix, Snohomish County, San Mateo County, and other Northrop Grumman customers across North America.
#2 Use the existing CAD system currently in use by Clackamas and Washington Counties, which is managed by the Urban Area Strategic Initiative (UASI). The goal of this group is to promote interoperability with computer dispatch and data systems. The advantage would be that misrouted calls could be entered and sent to the appropriate agency very quickly without transferring the call. Mobile data users and dispatchers would have been able to easily send and receive calls and messages to and from each other.
The cost of adding Multnomah County to the existing Clackamas/Washington CAD would probably have been about $1.5 million. As you can see by the attachment, the city completely ignored the IGA and goal of UASI and as usual "did their own thing."
Recently the BOEC User Board, consisting of representatives from all police, fire and EMS agencies, were told that the cost to maintain the new system will be $2 million per year; $400,000 to the CAD vendor Versaterm for software and $1.6 million to the City Bureau of Technology Services to manage 24-7 support of the new system. When queried about when she knew about the maintenance costs, the BOEC director lied to the User Board and said "recently," when in actuality she had known of the costs for several years.
The User Board unanimously voted to not pay the fees. User agencies pay a fee based on population and were upset they had not received advance notice so the new fees could be added to their respective budgets.
Since the cutover, the system has failed every night at midnight. There are at least 500 mobile terminals (fire, police, and medical) reporting their GPS coordinates to the new CAD system so they can be located easily on a map, or in the case of EMS, recommend the closest unit for dispatch.
The GPS data is apparently being cleared out at midnight, and the process causes the main CAD system to crash. A software fix is being worked on to be transmitted electronically "over the air" to all mobile units, but it is not known when it will be completely repaired.