Long delayed, 911 program moves closer to completion


Demonstrating a 911 dispatch system, Elijah Titus typed the address of a Carroll County home into a computer. The screen immediately displayed a map, with a purple dot showing the exact location of the house, and text boxes listing the particulars of the call. An icon - in the form of a car - showed that the fire department was on the scene.

Carroll public safety officials waited four years for a demonstration like this one, conducted last week in the county office building.

Although hampered by delays, the E911 Geographical Information System Enhancement Project - designed to use computers to help dispatch firefighters and sheriff's patrols - moved closer to completion.

Carroll officials say the system needs work, but the demonstration gave them a preview of a future in which dispatchers could direct emergency personnel faster and with greater precision.

"Right now, if [dispatchers] need to locate an incident, they need to pull out an ADC map and look at it, so that's what this all about," said county public safety director Howard S. Redman, the subject of a no-confidence vote by firefighters who noted the mapping project's delay as an example of his lack of effectiveness.

Although emergency workers say they respond to most calls quickly using the current method, they say the mapping system would enable them to work even faster.

"We need the most accurate information there is because we're playing against time," said Leon Fleming, emergency services liaison between the fire companies and county government. "We need to know exactly where we're going and how to get there."

At the demonstration, Titus, director of projects for Public Safety Systems Inc., and Dennis Bryant, a software engineer for the company, showed how the system displays updated maps with details such as buildings and hydrants, ponds and other water sources. The system also can locate pay phones, if one is used to make an emergency call.

"The maps would be great for us for to be able to locate street hundred blocks, water supplies and new streets in the community," Fleming said. "Mainly just being able to locate new streets would help because ... sometimes the streets don't go all the way through - they'll just stop, then later be put in further down the development."

The project began in 1997 when Redman secured a $540,000 state grant for the mapping system, and the county awarded the contract to Johnson, Mirmiran & Thompson of Baltimore.

That company subcontracted parts of the project to the Baltimore Metropolitan Council and Public Safety Systems, the county's vendor for its computer-aided dispatch program.

Steve Beck, JMT's project manager for the past year, said the maps are based on aerial photographs and field work that verified features such as streams and hydrants.

Although the project was scheduled to be completed in early 1999, JMT asked for extensions. Redman agreed to them, saying at the time that officials were "more interested in accuracy than speed." But sample maps showed glaring errors, such as telephone lines going through ponds, and the county sent the maps back for corrections.

In April, Redman fired JMT for breach of contract after the last deadline passed with no mapping system. JMT had been paid $478,000 of the project cost, and the county refused to pay any more until the mapping system was complete.

But Redman relented, allowing JMT to continue work. He said that changing to another company would have cost the county too much money.

County volunteer firefighters have criticized Redman, saying he has been too lax about enforcing deadlines for projects such as the mapping system. In October, the Carroll County Fire Chiefs issued a no-confidence vote in Redman, followed by similar votes in November from the Carroll County Volunteer Firemen's Association and Carroll County Ambulance Association.

The mapping system is one of two major projects that has gone past its deadline. Firefighters say they should have been resolved long ago.

Firefighters also want a communications tower in the Lineboro area to eliminate dead spots in radio communications. They say Redman hasn't pushed hard enough to find a suitable location.

The county's land-acquisition department met with the county commissioners Thursday to discuss potential sites for the towers. Commissioner Dean L. Minnich said the county had "a couple of people ready to deal with us." Minnich, Redman, and other officials contacted last week would not be specific about potential sites.

Although progress was demonstrated last week in the mapping program, Redman told representatives of the companies involved that he isn't satisfied.

"The real issue is how we're going to maintain it and add in new buildings," Redman said.

Part of the problem, Redman said, is that JMT misinterpreted specifications in the contract for the system. Redman said he insisted to JMT on Thursday that the company have a plan to finish the project by the end of this week.

Beck said JMT felt it had done what the county asked - to demonstrate how the system works, from putting in new data to its projection it on the display screen.

"We got some feedback from the client and are taking it under advisement at this point," said Beck, adding that a completion date has not been set.

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