- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 14, 2004

The District has lost between $4 million and $6 million on a mobile computer system for the fire department, the cost of which has swelled as much as sixfold during a year and a half of missed deadlines for implementing it.

D.C. Fire Chief Adrian H. Thompson halted work on the troubled project on Friday after reviewing a progress report about it, department spokesman Alan Etter said yesterday.

The computer project included a global-positioning system to track and dispatch ambulances more effectively while providing them with 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.

“It’s kind of hard to point to one thing that’s been holding this up,” said Devin Griffin, head of information technology at the fire department. “It seems like every other time [there’s a problem with the system] it’s a different issue.”

The cost of the project grew from $1 million in October 2002 to between $4 million and $6 million as the software and the modems for the wireless network were found to be incompatible with the fire department’s existing computer-assisted dispatch system, fire officials said.

Mr. Griffin, who has overseen the project for the fire department for about a year, said the project’s computer hardware already was “behind the curve in technology” when the contract was awarded in 2002.

He said he was not certain what the total cost has been because all contractual issues have been handled by the city’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer. OCTO initiated the project and has been involved in a management capacity and holds the funding for the project, Mr. Griffin said.

But Linda Argo, chief of staff for Chief Technology Officer Suzanne Peck, said that the fire department took full control of the project in March and that fire officials should have all the budget numbers.

“We have had nothing to do with that project since March,” Miss Argo said. “We have not been involved at all and can’t speak to any of the current issues.”

In March, the project had been under way for 17 months and already was one year behind schedule, officials said.

The project’s original $1 million contract was awarded in October 2002 to Silver Spring-based Optimus Corp. to implement the computer system with the information-technology company’s software for fire and emergency-medical-services departments. The project was expected to be completed in spring 2003.

Mr. Griffin said the project was not dead but has been put on hold while several major problems are worked out.

He said he notified Optimus of the department’s decision yesterday and hopes to have the company involved when work resumes.

“The timeline is a little gray right now, but at some point we had to hit the pause button,” Mr. Griffin said.

He could not say when work would resume, but he said the department is bringing in officials with the city’s Office of Unified Communications and first responders to offer their input.

“There’s a concern from our user community that it’s going to hamper their performance,” Mr. Griffin said.

He said another problem is that the wireless network that was supposed to communicate patient information does not extend across the city.

Currently, emergency medical technicians and paramedics communicate limited information with emergency rooms and dispatchers by radio. They write notes on patient conditions by hand, a process that is time-consuming and sometimes is left incomplete.

The mobile computer system project was initiated during the tenure of former Fire Chief Ronnie Few, who resigned in May 2002 after inaccuracies were found in his resume and those of his three top appointees.

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