The new computer at the Bureau of Emergency Communications (BOEC) 9-1-1 Center went live on time, under budget, and works as expected.
Some of the media coverage would lead you to believe otherwise. Here are the facts.
Buying a new computer to provide dispatching services between calltakers and front line providers (police, fire, and medical services) in Multnomah County was approved by the User Board in 2006. The User Board is an advisory group at BOEC comprised of members from the agencies BOEC serves - Portland Police and Fire, Gresham, Fairview, Wood Village, Troutdale, and the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office. The User Board considered the options of patching the old system or buying a new system in June 2006, and acknowledged the need for BOEC to buy the new Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) platform. In 2006, a County-wide bond measure was recommended by the User Board as the funding mechanism to pay for the purchase and installation of the new system. After further discussions including the User Board in 2007, the Portland City Council decided in 2008 to fund the purchase by Portland only, rather than trying for a County-wide bond.
When I took office and was assigned BOEC in January 2009, I heard about the "we could patch the old system for $500k" assertion, and looked into it. I came to the same conclusion the User Board had, that buying a new computer was necessary.
Think about it: Is the home computer you use today the same as the one you were using 17 years ago? How about your work computer? Likely not. Computers today can do so much more than those of the 1990s. And the old computers are hard to maintain, indeed may not even be serviced by their original manufacturer. That's what we were looking at, for the 9-1-1 center. I think we all agree, the 9-1-1 computer has to be reliable. Lives depend on it.
I concurred with the previous Commissioner in Charge of BOEC, Randy Leonard, that the new CAD was essential. We selected Versaterm from the companies that responded to the Request For Proposals to sell us the new CAD, in part because they already serve Seattle and Sacramento, creating a West Coast network potential in the event of a major regional disaster such as a catastrophic earthquake. They have provided CAD systems to other large cities serving multiple jurisdictions and agencies, including Salt Lake City, Vancouver B.C., and Halifax. Versaterm has an impressive track record and we were confident that the system would function properly when implemented. It does.
The implementation process was set up with an internal process manager, an independent paid consultant to oversee ongoing quality assurance, and a technical advisory committee including community members. Commissioner Leonard and I collaborated on the oversight, providing additional checks and balances from two Council members instead of one. We gave Council a full briefing in an open, televised public work session in fall 2010, and thereafter provided Council with monthly updates on assessments and progress towards implementation.
I authorized delayed implementation of the new CAD for two weeks in April, when preparatory checks revealed a needed adjustment. We fixed the problem, and went live with the new computer on April 17th.
The new computer works as expected.
The new computer was budgeted to cost $16 million. It has been purchased and implemented for $14.5 million. This cost was entirely covered by Portland's taxpayers. None of the capital funding was passed to our partner jurisdictions.
Because BOEC serves all of Multnomah County, but is operated by the City of Portland, there is an Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) with our partner jurisdictions that sets the percentage each must pay for operations. The percentage is based on population. Portland pays 80%, Gresham pays 12%, and the remaining four jurisdictions pay a total of 8%. The new computer necessitates increased costs associated with operation and maintenance. We need system experts on call 24/7 to correct any problems as soon as they arise. Portland pays the lion’s share of these cost increases, however every jurisdiction will be expected to pay their portion, as specified in the IGA.
As with any new complex computer system, problems may surface, resulting in down time. The old CAD had over 60 incidents of problems documented from January 1, 2011 to the conversion on April 17, and crashed once. With the Versaterm system, only one intermittent problem occurred, resulting in three outages before the problem was isolated and corrected. Staff at the 9-1-1 center are trained to operate when the computer is down, under the old and new system, and no impact to services resulted from the downtime.
BOEC users are bound by contract to pay the charges Portland assesses. We work hard to minimize those charges. We are motivated to reduce computer maintenance costs, as soon the system proves to be stable. We also work to keep other costs down. In 2010, we negotiated a new labor contract which saved money for Portland and our partner jurisdictions.
The new system is not the same as the one our police officers and fire fighters are accustomed to. During this initial training/orientation period, it may require police officers to pull over to read the computer screen in their car, instead of reading while driving. Police officers have radios, and 9-1-1 dispatchers give information over the radio as well as on the computer screen. The front-line users are giving BOEC requests on adjustments to the new system such as font size, and we will respond to their requests as soon and as well as we can. BOEC takes pride in providing great service to both callers and responders.
The staff at BOEC have performed like heroes with the new computer system. Almost all front-line providers have risen to the challenge and worked with us, rather than criticizing. I don't understand how anyone could call this new computer purchase and operation "a fiasco" when it was implemented on time, under budget, and works as expected.
I realize some people find it hard to believe government can do anything right. To try to turn this success into a failure is simply wrong, and political posturing at its worst. This is one complex City of Portland computer project that was planned and implemented as close to perfectly as is humanly possible. I thank Commissioner Randy Leonard, BOEC Director Lisa Turley, Project Manager Lisa Vasquez, and the entire team for their diligence and the excellent outcome on this work. If you have reason to believe otherwise, I cordially invite you to make an appointment and come and talk with me about it.