New Dane County emergency system faces more delays

$18M communication systems originally set to be released last summer
New Dane County emergency system faces more delays

The rollout of Dane County’s $18 million emergency communications system set for Monday has been postponed again, and its day-to-day manager said there is no information available “as to when it may commence.”

The system, known as DaneCom, was supposed to come on line last summer to connect emergency responders and public works officials around the county.

In an email last week to municipal leaders around Dane County, Chad Fleck, the DaneCom Radio System Administrator, acknowledged that the company building the system, Harris Corporation, continued to have intermittent audio issues on the new radio console equipment and that he hoped the fixes would be made in weeks, rather than months. He said the problems have been hard to track down.

Besides the audio issues, Fleck also indicated DaneCom’s mutual aid subsystem, which would allow out-of-county units without DaneCom radios to reach the dispatch center and in-field units, has not been completely field tested yet either.

“Now is the time for the 911 Center and those involved to explain exactly how far away we are because taxpayers deserve to know,” said Fitchburg Mayor Shawn Pfaff, whose city spent more than $1 million to build two radio towers to prepare for the emergency system that has yet to come on line.

“Taxpayers expect the system to work in an efficient matter,” Pfaff said.

When ground was broken on the project in January, 2012, implementation was expected in the summer of 2013. Dane County has a waiver from the federal government until the end of September to bring the system on line, but there are emergency workers who don’t expect the system to work in their communities.

“I don’t think the parts and pieces are there to be successful,” Mt. Horeb Fire Chief Craig Brinkmann said. “I think Chad Fleck is Superman and he’s given his heart and soul to this, but I don’t think he can get it there.”

Brinkmann said he has little confidence the system will help his firefighters communicate with each other based on the fact the system still is not operational.

“If something bad happens or I’m on the outside (of a fire) and I can see something bad happening and I can’t reach my crews inside, that isn’t going to end well. We joke around here, saying we’re going to go to Radio Shack and buy 20 walkie talkies because we know they’ll work. That system’s worked for years,” Brinkmann said.

The head of the 911 Center Board and Maple Bluff Fire Chief Josh Ripp expressed confidence in the people at the 911 Center working on the DaneCom system, and said he is not concerned with the latest delay.
“Knowing what the problems are, I’m glad they’re holding off,” he said. “I’m glad they’re not turning on a system that isn’t ready. That would be worse. We need to make sure it works as it should before it’s turned on.”

Earlier this summer, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi sent a letter to local government officials stating the county was actively pursuing remedies with Harris and that any financial penalty paid by the company would go back to the local governments, which have been paying operation and maintenance fees for the last couple of years. That is not easing the concerns of the local officials as another delay has emerged.

“The cities, villages and towns have been paying DaneCom operations and maintenance costs for over two years for an emergency response radio system that in reality does not exist,” wrote Forbes McIntosh, spokesperson for the Dane County Cities’ & Villages’ Association, in an email to News 3.

“DCCVA has been accommodating and patient with Harris Corp. and the Dane County Public Safety Communications Center, who are implementing the system, with our public statements. But the announcement of another delay raises questions as to the ability of the vendor to deliver an interoperable emergency radio system that meets the needs of the taxpayers/residents that will depend on it to save lives. Cities, villages and towns are grappling with the question whether they should discontinue payments until Harris and the contract with Dane County can show true tangibles,” McIntosh said.

Parts of the DaneCom system have been operational since this winter when medical and fire responders have heard of emergencies through a new paging system. However, McIntosh said even that has been troublesome as many fire and police departments have been complaining about coverage and interference problems since day one.

Parisi’s Chief of Staff Josh Wescott told News 3 in an email that McIntosh’s clients’ concerns will be addressed.

“As part of our ongoing work with Harris and holding it accountable there will be shared reductions in operations and maintenance expenses,” he said. “All of the participating cities, villages and towns will have their local share reduced, saving their taxpayers money.”

911 Center Director John Dejung wrote an email to a county supervisor last Friday that he had “kicked up some dust” with Harris executives over the past week and “asked for specifics on the schedule for completion.” In the email that was forwarded to numerous public officials throughout the county and sent to News 3 as well, Dejung indicated he had not received any specifics from Harris after his latest complaint.