County’s new multimillion-dollar dispatch system fails in test

EVERETT — The go-live date for a multimillion-dollar emergency dispatch project in Snohomish County has, again, turned into a no-go.

In recent tests simulating a large disaster, the system delayed emergency communications by as much as 3 minutes. It booted off users and wouldn’t let them log back in — including Everett Fire Chief Murray Gordon.

As a result, the June 9 launch date was canceled for New World, an ambitious county-wide overhaul of emergency dispatch software.

At a meeting Thursday, Sheriff Ty Trenary pressed New World representatives on whether a newly proposed launch is possible this fall.

“Is that really realistic?” he said. “That’s a critical information piece that I need.”

Local public safety agencies have been sinking money and staff time into the New World project for more than six years. Previous go-live dates included 2011, 2012 and tentatively 2014.

At some point, if New World continues not to function, the sheriff said, it will be time to talk about going a different direction.

“I don’t think it’s a surprise to anyone how incredibly frustrated I am,” Trenary said.

New World software is set to replace the computer-communication system used locally by police, firefighters, dispatchers and jails. The current system dates back to the 1980s.

In a series of recent New World tests, users experienced lags in the transmission of information ranging from 15 seconds to three minutes.

“That’s just unacceptable,” Mill Creek Police Chief Bob Crannell said.

Gordon on Thursday said the problems aren’t helping with the “lack of confidence” among front-line crews. Multiple successful tests are needed before the launch can happen, he said.

The system delays happened during a test of a large-scale incident, such as the Oso mudslide or the Marysville Pilchuck High School shooting, where more than 100 emergency responders would be live on the system.

New World needs to be able to sustain “not just a busy day in Snohomish County but our worst day,” said Kurt Mills, executive director of SNOPAC, the dispatch center based in Everett.

Snohomish County has been a unique project for Michigan-based New World Systems because of how many agencies are involved, said Craig Bickley, the company’s senior vice president of sales operations. There are more than 40, and that makes the project more complicated than an upgrade for, say, a city the size of Baltimore, he said. He also acknowledged there’s “a lot of money at stake.”

As of January, nearly $10 million of public money had been spent, not counting staff time.

“We’re all disappointed,” Bickley said.

He promised to report back to Trenary within 24 hours with a new go-live date.

“I was a sergeant when we started this project,” Trenary said. “I’m out of patience.”

The sheriff and several of the police chiefs said they weren’t looking forward to sharing the news of another delay with staff. Training means people working overtime.

Everett Deputy Police Chief James Lever said there will be a need for “damage control” with front-line staff after earlier committing to the June 9 launch.

The Northwest Washington Incident Management Team, which oversaw operations in Oso and Marysville and also responded to the Skagit County bridge collapse, is tasked with running the New World launch. The contracts are held by SNOPAC and SNOCOM, the dispatch center based in Mountlake Terrace.

Marysville Police Chief Rick Smith said he sees the project as a glass half-full. In other New World launches around the country, problems have happened after the system went live, he said.

At least here, the chief said, they ferreted out the issues now instead of during a major incident.

Smith repeated the same message he said he gave New World 18 months ago: “Get it right. Get it done and let’s move forward.”

If the project fails, officials would have a hard time finding another option for a county-wide system, said SNOPAC chairman Steve Guptill, who also is the assistant Monroe fire chief.

The finish line is “so close,” said Sky Fulton, a project manager hired by SNOPAC and SNOCOM and the chief point of local contact for New World.

Fulton understands that people are tired and agitated, but New World remains the best solution, even with another delay, he said.

Going live in September or October makes more sense than June, he said.

“Everybody’s ready. Everybody’s eager,” he said. “There’s just no more runway.”

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