- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 14, 2004

The D.C. Office of the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO) will work with the city fire department to develop a mobile computer system after the two agencies cost the District between $4 million and $6 million in a failed attempt at implementing such a system over the past two years.

“Fire and EMS, and OCTO have agreed to partner immediately to bring this project to successful deployment,” said Linda Argo, chief of staff for Chief Technology Officer Suzanne Peck.

However, OCTO and D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services officials said they do not know how much a new system will cost or when it would be implemented.

The Washington Times reported yesterday that Fire Chief Adrian H. Thompson halted work on a mobile computer system after its cost had swelled as much as six times as the project passed its expected completion date of spring 2003.

Neither city agency has taken responsibility for the failed system.

“This was a contract that both the Fire and EMS Department and the Office of the Chief Technology Officer agreed to mutually,” Miss Argo said.

The project’s original $1 million contract was awarded in October 2002 to Optimus Corp. — a public safety technology company based in Silver Spring — to implement the computer system with the company’s software for fire and EMS departments.

Eric Adolphe, president and chief executive officer of Optimus Corp., said yesterday that he agreed with the District’s decision to reassess the technology in light of pending changes to wireless industry standards.

He said the District took “an important step in moving this initiative forward, and implementing key assessments that are fully in line with our technology recommendations.”

“D.C.’s decision to temporarily stop work represents a responsible action to determine a prudent course for moving forward,” Mr. Adolphe said.

Several sources who took part in the decision-making process that selected Optimus Corp. said yesterday they were not impressed with the software package the company presented to the department in 2002. They said Dr. Fernando Daniels III, the department’s former medical director, favored Optimus Corp. over the objections of staffers assigned to research the project.

Optimus Corp., a minority-owned firm, had not implemented this particular software package in any other jurisdiction.

Dr. Daniels could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Devin Griffin, head of information technology at the fire department, said the project’s computer hardware already was “behind the curve in technology” when the contract was awarded in 2002. The modems for the wireless network were found to be incompatible with the fire department’s existing computer-assisted dispatch system, fire officials said.

Miss Argo would not say whether Optimus would participate in completion of the project.

She said OCTO and fire officials thought the custom-designed software met the needs of the District, adding that it did not violate an OCTO policy against procuring custom-made components.

According to OCTO’s evaluation criteria for acquiring computer systems, posted on its Web site (octo.dc.gov), “Investments in major information systems proposed for funding in the District’s budget should … reduce risk by avoiding or isolating custom-designed components to minimize the potential adverse consequences on the overall project.”

The computer project included a global-positioning system to track and dispatch ambulances more effectively while providing real-time directions for emergency calls. It also was designed to convey information from hazardous-materials and medical calls over a private, encrypted network to emergency-room staff, administrators and city agencies and to deliver triage options to first responders.

Kenneth Lyons, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 3721, which represents the city’s medics, said his union recommended a different software package. He said the new technology is crucial.

Mr. Lyons gave the example of an anthrax attack in which victims may not know they were exposed or experience symptoms for several hours. He said the computer system would be able to recognize that people seeking medical attention from different areas of the city are suffering the same symptoms.

“How do we identify that trend until it’s too late?” he said. “Early-warning systems that this system should have, we don’t have.”

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