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February 5, 2013 | Back to: News

Douglas County fire and police agencies struggle with software change

Douglas County law enforcement and fire officials say the county’s ongoing transition to a new computer system is depriving them of information they need to respond to emergencies.

“It’s terrible,” Glide Rural Fire District Chief Dan Tilson said Monday. “Unless these problems get fixed, it could be disastrous.”

County officials say they are working to resume the flow of information and that installing new software to manage records generated by the sheriff’s office, jail, dispatch center and district attorney’s office wasn’t expected to be problem-free.

“This isn’t something that you can go and buy off the shelf and use it tomorrow,” the county’s information technology director, Kevin Potter, said. “People just need to be patient.”

During the transition, which has curtailed The News-Review’s Police and Fire Logs for more than three weeks, firefighters and police officers are receiving less information as they head to calls.

Fire and police chiefs across Douglas County said they are confident the problems will be worked out, but it’s uncertain when.

“They haven’t even come close to working out all the bugs with it,” Winston Police Chief Scott Gugel said.

The county recently purchased a $750,000 software system that links sheriff’s records, jail, police and fire dispatch records and the district attorney’s office.

Most of the system was provided by Executive Information Systems of Bethesda, Md., though part of the system used by the district attorney’s office came from Karpel Solutions from St. Louis.

EIS representatives have spent the past month at the Douglas County Courthouse working on the system and transferring information from the previous system, which was provided by Tiburon Inc. of San Ramon, Calif.

The Tiburon system was used for 16 years, but the company announced last year it would quit providing system upgrades at the end of March.

The transition is being conducted in stages. The district attorney’s office was the first to get the upgrade, several weeks ago, followed by the dispatch center. On Sunday, the jail made the conversion. Since then, the public has not been able to search jail records on the sheriff’s office website. The rest of the sheriff’s office has yet to make the switch.

For now, the new system “does not provide adequate information,” Roseburg Fire Department Chief Mike Lane said.

Myrtle Creek Volunteer Fire Department Chief Bill Leming said firefighters are receiving emergency reports dotted with largely irrelevant numbers, but not a brief description of the emergency.

“There’s some information on there that we don’t need, and some information that we do need that’s not on there,” he said.

Tilson said that paramedics are accustomed to getting details such as the sex, age and the health problem. Now, the call reads simply “medical aid.”

The lack of information delays the department in sending the right equipment and personnel, he said.

“What we get now is a lot of garbage,” Tilson said.

Reedsport Police Chief Mark Fandrey said his nine sworn officers have lost the ability to receive some messages in their cars.

“There’s always bugs in a new system,” Fandrey said.

Roseburg Police Chief Jim Burge likened the current situation to 2003 when the department installed laptop computers in patrol cars.

“It’s a stressful time right now,” he said.

“If you had interviewed the officers then, some of them would say they didn’t want a car with a computer in it,” he said. “Now they’d have a hard time functioning without that computer in the car.”

The county solicited proposals from software vendors, who were asked to detail how their products fit hundreds of specifications detailed in a 99-page document.

The specifications covered areas such as case records, arrest reports, parking tickets, logs and internal affairs reports, among dozens of others.

Ten companies responded and county officials went through an extensive evaluation.

“Cost was a factor. Function was a factor. The ongoing maintenance and support costs over a 10-year period were also factored in,” Potter said.

Software systems are not designed to run seamlessly from the start, Potter said. They have to be enhanced to meet each customer’s specific needs, he said.

Emergency dispatchers have faced the most stress from the new system, Potter said. They’ve had to learn the workings of the new software at the same time that they answer incoming calls.

“We have to learn it live,” said Katy Stall, the county’s emergency communications manager.

Enhancements to the base system are being carried out on a priority basis. Issues that affect life, health and safety are given a higher priority than those that are more informational in nature, Potter said.

The county plans to eventually provide news outlets with more information about police and fire calls than they’ve received since the new dispatch system went into use Jan. 12, Potter said.

• Reporter Garrett Andrews can be reached at 541-957-4218 or gandrews@nrtoday.com. Reporter John Sowell can be reached at 541-957-4209 or jsowell@nrtoday.com.

Garrett Andrews

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The News-Review Updated Feb 8, 2013 10:04AM Published Apr 12, 2013 01:41PM Copyright 2013 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.