Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Planned Upgradeof Fire Dispatch Hits a Roadblock; $704,000 in Software from Motorola Doesn't Work with City's System

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Planned Upgradeof Fire Dispatch Hits a Roadblock; $704,000 in Software from Motorola Doesn't Work with City's System

Article excerpt

Byline: Steve Patterson

Three years after signing a contract to modernize its dispatch system, Jacksonville's fire department tested software last month meant to help dispatchers track and communicate better with fire crews.

It pulled the plug the same day.

"Units were not even getting the call" when an emergency happened, Fire Operations Chief Charles Drysdale said. "They were getting no notification through the tone alert. ... People would call up the station and say, 'hey, there's a fire in your district.' "

The $1.8 million project with Motorola Solutions, meant to make fire protection faster and more efficient, has dragged out years longer than either the city or its vendor expected. The city paid Motorola $704,000 for design, equipment and software delivery and installation in 2009, according to city records. Neither a finish date nor a final price tag is certain.

Fire officials don't know of any deaths or severe fire damage that resulted from the March 12 test, said Tom Francis, a department spokesman.

But if it can't resolve the problems, the city has lost time and effort for nothing.

The software was designed to help dispatchers assign and track each and every fire unit, and to instantly identify the nearest available units when calls come in. That, theoretically, would enable units to respond faster and to coordinate their actions.

'BACK TO SQUARE ONE'

City departments have asked lawyers for advice but haven't announced a plan for what to do next. Motorola hopes the city will let it keep trying, but a City Council member is urging department heads to start over.

"My personal thinking is I'd rather go back to square one. ... And I'd like the city to get its money back," Councilman Robin Lumb said. "I think I'm only going to be satisfied if it goes out for bid."

There wasn't any bidding the first time.

Fire officials had looked at four potential suppliers but were told in 2008 that the city wanted one of those, Motorola. The Sheriff's Office used Motorola already, the city was told the systems used the same software. And the company offered a deal that included some price discounts, Lumb was told by fire officials last month. …

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