Questions surround new software for emergency dispatchers

EVERETT — A long-awaited and pricey overhaul of Snohomish County’s emergency dispatch software is set to go live June 9.

Supporters say the bugs are worked out, and the project is ready. Others say the rollout should be more gradual in case of problems.

The software, made by New World Systems in Michigan, has been controversial for years. Together, the county’s two primary dispatch centers — SNOPAC, based in Everett, and SNOCOM, based in Mountlake Terrace — have spent nearly $10 million. New World initially was supposed to launch here in 2011, but the project has been plagued by delays and disputes.

Earlier this month, Sheriff Ty Trenary sent a letter to his staff acknowledging it’s been a “difficult road” but that they should stay committed as June approaches.

“Every tool we use currently to perform our jobs — from records to booking to patrol — will change,” Trenary wrote. “In the end, however, it will be worth it.”

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.

SNOPAC chairman Steve Guptill, also the assistant Monroe fire chief, said he is confident June is the right time to launch New World. The delays have allowed more time to vet and solve problems, he said.

A regional incident management team — similar to those sent to the Oso mudslide and the Skagit River bridge collapse — is expected to oversee the launch.

During the earlier delays, those involved in the project did look at alternatives, including dropping New World and finding a different vendor. No other company was up to the task, Guptill said. Walking away now, after the money that’s been spent and the staff time invested, would be irresponsible and “crazy,” he said.

“This is unprecedented anywhere in the nation to have an entire county going live on a complete single-source set of software with unlimited data-sharing between all public safety agencies,” Guptill said. “Nothing exactly like this has been done anywhere.”

At the same time, New World continues to irritate some. Barbed exchanges have taken place between SNOPAC and the Marysville Fire District.

In September, the Marysville district’s board asked SNOPAC to consider whether the project is already a failure and to end the relationship with New World, public records show. The Marysville board wrote that if the go-live isn’t successful, the dispatch center should declare a breach of contract by New World.

SNOPAC wrote back that the project would not be launched until it was ready, but that a “solid fallback plan” had been created.

Lake Stevens fire district minutes from November reference the New World delays as “reaching the point of ridiculous.”

NORCOM, the dispatch center serving northeast King County, including the Bothell Fire Department, also has had a troubled relationship with New World Systems. In June, NORCOM and New World signed a settlement to resolve legal disputes outside of court. NORCOM is using New World for police dispatching but dropped the fire dispatching part of the project after repeated problems. In the settlement, New World agreed to pay NORCOM $850,000, public records show.

In January 2014, New World and SNOCOM also signed a settlement. In that dispute, the company wanted SNOCOM to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in maintenance fees on software that wasn’t functioning.

SNOCOM’s concerns about New World weren’t resolved, though. In October, board chairman Jerry Smith, also the mayor of Mountlake Terrace, wrote New World asking the company president to come meet with SNOCOM leaders and ease their minds.

“Our confidence in NWS (New World Systems) performance is low and project credibility has suffered,” Smith wrote.

New World declined the offer.

It’s unusual for the New World president to travel, and the company has sent someone to SNOPAC anytime that’s been requested, Guptill said. New World routinely sends people to Snohomish County to work on the project, he said.

Regardless, June still looms.

That go-live date was announced by SNOPAC at a joint SNOPAC-SNOCOM meeting Jan. 8. At that meeting, Bob Colinas, vice chairman of SNOCOM’s board and the Brier mayor, read a statement asking SNOPAC to reconsider and explore more “alternatives and precautionary measures,” such as a multi-step rollout.

Colinas’ statement and other documents related to the New World project were obtained by The Herald through a series of public records requests.

On Thursday, Guptill sent SNOCOM a response, saying the launch is planned “in a manner that minimizes and mitigates our challenges.”

Once live, the software will be used by more than 40 police and fire departments serving a county of roughly 750,000 people.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com.

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