Anne Arundel County will use old network until at least mid-March
Published 01/26/12

Anne Arundel County will not turn its new computer-aided dispatch system back on until at least mid-March, according to county’s director of information technology.

The computer program was switched on Dec. 6 only to be turned off 21 days later amid complaints from public safety employees who said it was causing safety problems. The system was originally scheduled to be plugged back in Thursday.

County officials estimated last month it would take 30 days to resolve the employees’ issues with the system. The county decided to take an extra month or two and make some additional “functional enhancements” to the system.

“We figured while it is down, let’s go a step beyond,” said Bill Ryan, the head of the county’s Office of Information Technology. “We are trying to make it even easier to use than it was intended.”

With the extra time, the county also will offer additional training to dispatchers and other public safety workers to make sure they understand how to use the Tiburon E-911 Computer-Aided Dis-patch system.

Union officials – who asked County Executive John R. Leopold last month to take the system down until their concerns could be addressed – praised the county yesterday for reworking the system. At the same time, they blasted the administration for thinking the necessary changes could be made in less than a month.

“Setting a 30-day window to fix problems that took years to create was completely unrealistic,” said O’Brien Atkinson, the president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 70, which represents the bulk of the county’s police officers.

While the county is now consulting with the public safety employees who will have to use this system, Atkinson said administrators should have done that from the beginning.

“Had patrol officers, dispatchers, and other users been involved and consulted with throughout this process, we would not have such a mess now,” he said. “We hope that this is not too little, too late. The missteps over the last several years of delays and Band-Aids may have caused irreparable harm.”

The dispatch system is used by the county police and fire departments, the sheriff’s and state’s attorney’s offices and the detention facilities.

Until the new system is ready, public safety workers will continue to use the computer software in place before Dec. 6, officials said.

The purchase

The county purchased the new dispatch system in January 2008 while buying a new automated record management system. The two programs cost $6.6 million and will cost $300,000 a year to maintain.

According to county officials, the old record management software, also created by Tiburon, would have effectively stopped working on Jan. 1 due to a Y2K-style glitch, officials said.

When the county reverted to the old computer-aided dispatch system on Dec. 27, it continued with the new record management system.

While generally viewed more favorably than the dispatch system, the new records system also has its critics. Atkinson complained yesterday that it requires too much data-entry work by police officers.

“Most our officers were hoping that it would be pulled when the dispatch system was pulled,” he said. “Officers are spending too much time away from their beats, staring at computer screens, searching for cellular signals and trying in vain to complete what had been (under the old system) the simplest of reports.”

Shortly after the new dispatch system was turned on, public safety workers started reporting problems to their unions and The Capital.

Dispatchers complained that the system – with its modern graphic interface – was too complicated to navigate. Firefighters complained that they were being dispatched to calls outside their communities, but not to calls near their stations. And police officers complained that they needed to provide specific addresses of businesses for them to be located by dispatchers.

Ryan said many of the unions’ problems have been addressed.