Dallas Knows How To Fix Problems With Fire Department Warning System But Won’t Do It, Company Says

Dallas has known for at least a year that it needs to upgrade its aging system that alerts firefighters of emergency calls inside their stations, but has not yet done so, the system maker said.

Representatives from Locution Systems Inc. say the Dallas IT department has reported issues, such as audio issues, with the automated system since July 2020.

But the company has repeatedly told IT since last October that the the hardware, software and computer operating systems of the warning system of the nearly 60 fire stations in the city are too old to function reliably, said Jordan Darnall, director of customer operations for the company.

Darnall said he is traveling to Dallas next week to present the list of improvements recommended by Locution to city officials for at least the third time. He and company president Glenn Neal said The morning news from Dallas that the system equipment in the city’s fire stations has not been updated since 2008 and does not meet company standards.

Bill Zielinski, Dallas chief information officer and city’s chief information officer, did not respond to messages seeking comment on the alert system.

Firefighters said in a statement they were unable to confirm whether anyone was seriously injured or killed due to problems with the warning system.

Jon Fortune, a deputy city manager who oversees public safety, told council members in a memo last Friday that the alert system was “too complex, difficult to monitor in an automated fashion and difficult to resolve when ‘a problem arises “.

IT’s efforts to “stabilize” the system have not worked, he said.

Responding to the city’s memo, Darnall said, “While we are disappointed that many of our recommendations have yet to be implemented, we are happy to finally be able to present and explain the technical recommendations directly. to the City of Dallas Fire Department. heads. “

‘Difficult battle’

The company said it was unsure why the necessary upgrades hadn’t taken place and suspected that some of them could be due to turnover in the IT department. He does not agree that the problem is with his product.

“It’s been an uphill battle to get our equipment and software to work as they should,” Darnall said. “If you have a great car, but you don’t change the oil, you can’t really be surprised that it doesn’t perform well 12 years later. And that’s where we are right now.

The city is still reeling from other issues with its information and technology services department, including a fired employee who deleted more than eight million police archive files while trying to move them from the cloud storage.

The fire station warning system is supposed to send automated announcements about emergency calls to station public address systems and turn on overhead lights to alert workers of an emergency. Firefighters can also learn about emergency calls through their computers and portable or vehicle radios.

The city has been paying to use the system since 2005. City council approved a new five-year contract with the Colorado-based company in September 2017 for nearly $ 259,000. The contract is supposed to cover software updates and technical support.

“10 years late”

Zielinski and fire chief Dominique Artis told city council members on Tuesday that the system needed to be replaced after stations experienced more frequent delays in receiving alerts.

But council member Cara Mendelsohn said some stations were not receiving the alerts at all and said she had heard firefighters talk about at least two examples in her district of Far North Dallas. In one case, firefighters on their way to an apartment complex fire had to call members of the nearest station after driving by and noticing the truck was still in the garage.

The city began assigning a 911 dispatcher last week to call fire stations to alert personnel of emergency calls.

“The current notification system is old and routine maintenance does not help resolve the alert problem,” the department said. “We plan to replace the old notification system with a robust one later this year.”

Locution officials say they told the city all fire station computers need to be upgraded from Windows 7, which came out in 2009 and ceased to be supported by Microsoft last year. , to Windows 10. Darnall has stated that he is aware of at least two stations where this has happened.

The city reached out to Locution in August to help upgrade some firefighters’ computers from Windows 7 to Windows 10. Last month, the city again inquired about hardware and software, which led to the meeting. coming next week.

Locution said it told Dallas it would cost $ 575,000 for system upgrades, software, hardware and other technical services at all of the city’s fire stations. The estimate does not include installation, the company said.

“Dallas is really unique in that I think they’re one of the only customers who haven’t upgraded to modern standards,” said Neal, whose company works with more than 120 cities and counties. in North America. “Most everyone has improved. You don’t need to upgrade to the latest and greatest version, but you can’t be at least 10 years behind.

The city has upgraded fire station computers from Windows 7 in the past six months, Zielinski said at Tuesday’s meeting. He added that the fire department was planning to use the budgeted federal money to buy a new system.

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