2011 New CAD Implementation FAQs
Why weren’t these answers available before now?
The answers have been available. Some have been available since go-live on April 17, 2011, but many have been available for much longer. They are the same answers that have been provided to the media and others asking similar questions. However, BOEC wants to make sure open access to the information is available to everyone.
What is CAD?
CAD in an acronym for Computer Aided (or Assisted) Dispatch.
What is a CAD system?
A CAD system is a tool that allows BOEC (or any other 911 or dispatch center) to organize information relating to the intake of calls for service from the public in order to assign them to the proper public safety emergency responders with the appropriate priority.
A CAD system is:
Why did the City purchase a new CAD system?
The previous CAD system was installed in 1994 and after a rocky start performed very well. However, the system was past its expected end-of-life and was unstable and failing. In fact, its overall performance had been slowly degrading over the past several years and it could no longer be adapted to adequately and reliably interface with new systems and technologies.
How much input did the partner agencies have in choosing and configuring this CAD?
Partner agencies were included at every step of the process. In establishing the desired parameters of the new system, items relating to basic calltaking and dispatch functionality were augmented by hundreds of features requested by the partner agencies. Development committees, advisory groups, and testing teams included partner agency representatives. Project updates were provided as a standing item on BOEC User Board and discipline-specific Dispatch Committee agendas.
Who is Versaterm?
Founded over 30 years ago, Versaterm develops a public safety suite of products including Police/Fire/EMS CAD, Mobile Data and Police Records Management systems collectively branded Versadex. Cities and Counties across North America rely on the Versadex system to not only support their operational needs but to better their service delivery and analysis using the latest technology and proven best practices. While the software is highly configurable, Versaterm brings those best practices from agencies such as Phoenix AZ, Seattle WA, Salt Lake City UT, Sacramento CA, Vancouver BC and Ottawa ON to help re-engineer and, as a result, gain real and measurable operational efficiencies. With the "evergreen" philosophy of constantly evolving the system,Versaterm is very proud of the fact that no customer has replaced a Versaterm system in over 20 years while they remain up-to-date with the latest, proven technology and features.
The Versadex product suite, installed at BOEC, is the same system that has helped public safety professionals manage both the 2002 and 2010 Winter Olympics.
Who is ieSolutions?
ieSolutions is a Portland-based information technology professional services firm serving clients in the Oregon and Southwest Washington area. The Portland Business Journal has ranked ieSolutions as one of the fastest growing companies for 5 consecutive years, evidence of ieSolutions’ ability to deliver value to clients. With over 80 information technology professionals, ieSolutions partners with its client to develop information technology strategies and implement information technology systems. ieSolutions provides staff management, project management, business software development and information technology roadmap services.
I’ve heard the old system was a custom-built system, what does that mean?
Hundreds of major and minor programming modifications had been applied over the years to accommodate BOEC and partner agency business needs. Some of these system modifications were not documented as they were incorporated. When maintenance on the system was required, not even the programmers were able to concretely decipher changes that had been made. These changes were not supported by the CAD vendor and sometimes contributed to data conflicts within the modified modules. The extensive customization eventually resulted in the CAD vendor declining to provide adequate system support.
The Versaterm CAD is supposed to be “highly configurable.” What does that mean?
BOEC and its CAD users moved from a highly customized system that required the support of on-site software engineers to a commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) system that is supported by a vendor. While a COTS CAD system is out-of-the-box generic, it has the ability to be adjusted/configured by the site to meet specific operational needs.
The Versaterm CAD (VCAD) system has thousands of configuration options/combinations, many of which are optional. BOEC chose to consider many of them during the VCAD implementation processes. That configuration started in August 2009. While most of that configuration was completed by June 2010, some continues today.
Why has it been regularly reported that $500,000 would have allowed the existing system to continue for years?
An investigation into the feasibility of stabilizing rather than replacing the existing CAD system found that while upgrading the platform hardware would have been relatively inexpensive, it would not have addressed the major causes of the CAD system’s ongoing instability. It would be much like replacing the engine of an aging automobile in which the steering, gear shift, brakes, and accelerator are also failing.
The $500,000 estimate was for the cost of replacing the platform hardware (the aging automobile’s engine, in our analogy). It would effectively eliminate exactly one potential exposure: the failure of the existing platform hardware. It would do nothing to address the following issues:
Wouldn’t addressing enough of these issues to truly stabilize the system still have been less expensive than purchasing a new CAD?
Many of these issues simply couldn’t be addressed without replacing the CAD. Regardless of the cost, no option short of replacing the CAD would give us what we are absolutely required to have to meet our obligations to our partner agencies and the citizens: a CAD system backed by 24/7 technical support and the assurances that come with a vendor contractually obligated to stand behind that system.
What was the process for selecting the CAD system?
Following the City of Portland, Bureau of Purchasing (BoP), guidelines, a structured Request-for-Proposal (RFP) was created. More than 30 vendors requested a copy of the RFP and 14 expressed interest in responding (attending a required Bidders’ conference). Ultimately, 5 CAD vendors responded to the RFP…all major players in the marketplace.
CAD Selection and Advisory Committees were put in place. These committees were comprised of Police, Fire and EMS representatives, as well as technical, operations and management personnel from the associated City of Portland bureaus, BOEC, BTS and BoP.
The selection occurred in two phases: Proposal Review and Detailed Review.
The short-list and final selection of the vendor was based on weighted criteria (and per BoP rules, published with the RFP). These criteria included: Professional Qualifications; EEO/Diversity – Minority-owned/Woman-owned/Emerging Small Business Participation; Project Approach, Solution Architecture/Technology Design, Implementation and Support Proposals; Fulfillment of System Requirements; Proposed Cost.
Who was responsible for the administration and management of the old CAD?
Shortly after the installation of the system in 1994, BOEC hired two programmers from the CAD vendor. Additionally, BOEC assigned one dispatcher to assist in managing all of the tables required to operate a CAD system. Following the retirement of the CAD interface programmer, many glitches in critical interfaces could never be properly resolved. Worse yet, some system failures could not be fully investigated, leaving an ongoing potential for subsequent failures. Toward the end of its lifetime, with few exceptions, system support for the old CAD was the responsibility of two individuals, one from BOEC and one from the Bureau of Technology Services (BTS). Since these were long-tenured employees, both were entitled a significant amount of vacation leave each year. Given the unique skill set required to maintain the heavily customized system, these absences left the system inadequately supported.
How does the experience of implementing the new CAD compare to the last CAD replacement?
The CAD footprint was smaller in 1994, so the number of users was fewer. In 1994 there were more technological problems involving critical system functionality, but fewer related to non-critical functionality. That system had many fewer non-critical functions for one thing. For several months following go-live in 1994, the City worked with the vendor to address unanticipated system problems. In addition, the City hired two full-time CAD programmers from the vendor to get the long-term support needed to keep that system running. Many aspects of the new CAD project are reminiscent of the old CAD go-live in 1994: heightened anxiety, concerns about functionality and ease of use, questions about the choice of vendor, the costs of the system, and the need to purchase a new CAD at all. However, the 2011 process has actually been much smoother than in 1994 – except for the efforts of some to continue to keep the negative “story” circulating.
I’ve seen reports about a lot of problems. Why are there so many problems?
Any CAD system is very complex in and of itself, and there are several interfaces into other complex systems. The CAD simultaneously receives new data from hundreds of different users, and is called upon to parse, analyze, and present data back to hundreds of different users, also simultaneously. (Right now, it is processing over 100,000 unique transactions – each day). And it is new. Of course there are some problems. No new system goes live without problems. The number of problems is proportional to the complexity of the system, the size and scope of the system, the demands on the system, and the standards against which the system is measured.
Couldn’t these problems be anticipated? Why weren’t these problems revealed in testing?
Extensive testing was conducted, using all available tools. As a result of this testing, many issues were discovered and resolved in advance of go-live. However, given that normal operations must not be disrupted, certain aspects of the new system could only be tested in a limited environment.
How many problems have been reported?
As of July 16th, (3 months post-go-live), 531 issues have been reported. These have ranged from password reset requests to configuration requests to application defects and enhancements.
Of the 531 issues, 120 have been identified as application defects. Of the 120 application defects, 37 were rated and were given a high priority for resolution. Only 8 high priority application defects are outstanding. This compares to the 315 application defects identified during the pre-go-live testing process.
How many are still not “fixed”?
At the time of go-live, less than 10 of the 315 application defects remained open. None were considered by BOEC or the project team to be concerns enough to delay the cutover event. (They have since been fixed. As of July 16th, only 23 application defects remain open in the new CAD Issues List.
Why are people having a hard time adjusting to the new system?
Any technology change can be hard. Think about the last time you got a new cell phone, or switched from a MAC to a PC, or even got a new camera or DVD player. These new technologies are more complicated than old ones and they make us think, and act, differently. At BOEC, we understand that public safety personnel are just like all other people in adapting to this type of change. Actions they used to be able to do without thinking, now require lots of thought – and that’s uncomfortable. We are providing as much training and support as possible until they become more adapted to the new system. Every day sees improvement and we continue to process calls for service efficiently and effectively. The same is true for our partner agencies.
What training was provided to staff at BOEC?
All calltakers and dispatchers received 24 hours of classroom instruction along with computer simulation as their initial training. In addition to the classroom time, they were provided 6-12 hours of worksheet and computer simulation time in small groups with a trainer to be completed between classes. During the first week of go-live, there was expert trainer support available 24/7 on the operations floor for questions, and during the first two weeks of transition to the new CAD system. Two dispatchers staffed each dispatch position in order to provide support during the transition and learning process. An email group was also created in order for anyone to ask questions and get responses for any questions or areas of confusion. Additionally, two months after go-live, 4 hours of follow-up training have been made available to all calltakers and dispatchers, with an additional 3 hours available for police and fire dispatchers.
What training was provided to staff at the Police partner agencies?
The challenge to train employees to change the way they interact with the new CAD system in such a significant way must be a lot like a foreign language instructor trying to teach a new language to students. It takes a lot of time, practice, and a different way of thinking to be successful. The police agencies trained more than 40 officers, sergeants, and detectives as instructors who then ran small groups of up to 12 students through a nine hour class (nearly 10,000 training hours). Using tried and true teaching principles, instructors lectured and demonstrated the MDT. They also provided assistance as officers practiced most tasks and then tested them on their knowledge. Students were offered a 90-page electronic user manual and a smaller 20-page version along with a cheat sheet depicting some commonly used functions and codes.
What training was provided to staff at the Fire partner agencies? During the months of February and March 2011, PF&R used its standard training block format to train all PF&R, Gresham and Port of Portland firefighters on the Versadex MDT. Every fire company from each of these departments was brought to PF&R’s Training Center and received structured training on the new MDT application. The training was facilitated by 10 well-trained instructors that included Gresham and Port Fire members. PSSRP provided 16 touch screen monitors and BTS provided desktop computers for the class. This hardware was configured to replicate an actual MDT in order to make the training as close a possible to a real world environment. A full dispatch terminal was also set up and during each of the training sessions an instructor served as a dispatcher and dispatched calls to the crews being trained. Additionally, on the two weekends prior to go-live, Chief Schmidt and two other PF&R CAD Team members functioned as fire dispatchers and conducted bureau-wide, real-time testing of the MDTs. These tests included dispatching large-scale incidents with multiple units assigned from the simulation room at BOEC. Every first-line company participated in these exercises and each unit was required to demonstrate proficiency in responding with the MDT and employing its adjunct features such as mapping, premise information, pre-fires, etc. This was done under the direction of a Chief’s Memo and was very formal in its process. PF&R used the Production CAD to conduct this parallel testing while still managing real-world events on the PRC CAD. The results of these exercises, including defects and recommended enhancements, were documented and all critical issues were addressed before go-live. These "dress rehearsals" were invaluable because fire companies were able to experience the look and feel of the MDT in an emergency response environment prior to cutover. It also helped point out some oversights on the part of the Fire CAD Team and allowed time to make corrections.
What training was provided to staff at the Fire partner agencies?
During the months of February and March 2011, PF&R used its standard training block format to train all PF&R, Gresham and Port of Portland firefighters on the Versadex MDT. Every fire company from each of these departments was brought to PF&R’s Training Center and received structured training on the new MDT application. The training was facilitated by 10 well-trained instructors that included Gresham and Port Fire members. PSSRP provided 16 touch screen monitors and BTS provided desktop computers for the class. This hardware was configured to replicate an actual MDT in order to make the training as close a possible to a real world environment. A full dispatch terminal was also set up and during each of the training sessions an instructor served as a dispatcher and dispatched calls to the crews being trained.
Additionally, on the two weekends prior to go-live, Chief Schmidt and two other PF&R CAD Team members functioned as fire dispatchers and conducted bureau-wide, real-time testing of the MDTs. These tests included dispatching large-scale incidents with multiple units assigned from the simulation room at BOEC. Every first-line company participated in these exercises and each unit was required to demonstrate proficiency in responding with the MDT and employing its adjunct features such as mapping, premise information, pre-fires, etc. This was done under the direction of a Chief’s Memo and was very formal in its process. PF&R used the Production CAD to conduct this parallel testing while still managing real-world events on the PRC CAD. The results of these exercises, including defects and recommended enhancements, were documented and all critical issues were addressed before go-live. These "dress rehearsals" were invaluable because fire companies were able to experience the look and feel of the MDT in an emergency response environment prior to cutover. It also helped point out some oversights on the part of the Fire CAD Team and allowed time to make corrections.
I’ve heard a lot about MDTs or MDCs – what are these?
The acronym MDT stands for Mobile Data Terminal. An MDC is a mobile data computer. Generically speaking, these are portable laptop PCs, that are mounted in a patrol car, a fire truck or an ambulance. Our CAD vendor refers to these mobile devices as PoliceMDTs or FireMDTs.
What is the purpose of an MDT?
An MDT provides the public safety (Police, Fire, Medical) responder with a view of the CAD system. In addition to the “voiced” (radio) dispatch information, the responder can see:
Doesn’t the current configuration of the MDTs make it less safe for responders?
Improvements in the MDT presentation and operation are in progress. However, the MDT configuration should not be an officer safety issue. BOEC, and responder agencies, do not expect officers to attempt to read or otherwise use the MDT while their vehicles are in motion. Information about priority calls is broadcast over the radio. Information about non-priority calls is not broadcast over the radio because partner agencies have directed BOEC to avoid using radio air time for non-priority calls. However, the nature of a non-priority call allows officers the opportunity to stop driving in order to use the MDT.
In some of your documentation, there are references to interfaces. What is an “interface”?
Technically, the term “interface” can mean many things. The way that term is generally used with relation to CAD refers to the link from the CAD system to another, external system or database. For example, the VCAD system has an interface with the Voice Radio system, tracking who is talking on their radio (“keying” their microphone) and then displaying that information (real-time) to the Dispatcher. The VCAD also has an interface that link it to Oregon’s Law Enforcement Data System (LEDS) and the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC). This allows officers to “run” people or plates and receive information about them.
There are a total of 19 unique interfaces in the VCAD system, including: E911 (Caller ID/Location), Fire Station Alerting, Paging, Voice Recording, Police Records Management System (RMS), Fire Records Management Systems, Permit Alarms, and CAD-to-CAD (other area 911 CAD systems).
I’ve heard the new CAD was down for days after it was first turned on. Is that true?
No … that is not true. The new CAD system did have a significant fault on its second night of operation. The on-site tech teams restored it to normal operation in less than an hour after gathering information on the triggering events. That same problem occurred two more times, about a week later on separate days at approximately midnight. Each time, the teams gathered more information on the triggering event and held the system off-line for about an hour. After the third outage, on April 28th, the trigger was confirmed and fixes were put in place. Since that time, the new CAD system has not been down.
Why does a former, highly experienced employee report that purchasing a new CAD system was a mistake?
The former employee was the BOEC dispatcher assigned to maintain the CAD tables during the entire life of the previous CAD. In that position, he was one of three (and then two) people who had unrestricted access to the system and had, over the 17 years of system life, gained a unique knowledge of the system. Replacement of that system with a new CAD on a modern platform would necessarily result in a significant change of duties. Although offered an opportunity to transition to the new system, the employee took other action.