Case Study Update #2: Rosa County Public Safety System Upgrade
It was not a good way to start the year: over the New Year weekend, a three-year old had been taken from
his home during a domestic dispute by a parent – against whom a restraining order had already been filed
– who came by the house Friday night, armed and angry about custody papers filed earlier in the day.
Although an emergency call was placed by a neighbor after shots were heard shortly after 10 p.m., police
did not arrive at the residence until nearly 30 minutes later, delayed by an address incorrectly recorded as
“18th Street” when the house was several miles away on “18th Avenue”. Worse still, the shots quickly
attracted the attention of the media, who arrived on the scene prior to police officers and subsequently
noted several squad cars were not far from the area and could have easily arrived sooner. Fortunately, no
one was hurt and the little boy was voluntarily returned home early the next morning after a few hours of
negotiations when the police located the abductor and the boy in an apartment nearby, but public criticism
of the police department remained high.
In the meantime, call center personnel – dispatchers and call takers – took the events of the past weekend
extremely hard. Uniformed personnel at the nearby police and fire station who supported the call center
that weekend as additional duty were upset with call center personnel. Those personnel, who were all
civilians, just didn’t seem to understand the mistake made at the center made the officers responding to the
incident look bad, through no fault of their own. The regular civilian call center staff, on the other hand, felt
no one realized how much call volume had increased in the last year, with no additional support provided
other than part-time ad hoc uniformed support that hadn’t really been trained in call center processes and
weren’t stationed onsite anyway. The two or three civilians who had been in the center a long time – more
than three years or so (turnover tended to be high) – were especially frazzled, as everyone seemed to look
to them to keep things together and the current center was a disorganized mess of paperwork and people.
Everyone was looking forward to “anything new” that might help the situation, although no one really knew
the details of what was to come…just that a new system and call center structure was supposedly on its
Alex Jensen, an Operations Manager within the Rosa County police department and the designated
“overseer” of the public safety dispatch system upgrade that was very publicly promised to improve
emergency call response time, had been following the story most of the weekend and felt more than a little
pressure when he returned to work on Tuesday. He knew the upgrade project needed, in some way, to
respond to the past weekend’s events. He also sensed he needed to get more engaged with the system
upgrade vendor, OnCall Systems, but he also wanted to have the right information before going in to any
additional planning sessions. With OnCall already working with the County to develop plans for
reconfiguring the police department’s communications area and with a few of their technical personnel
already onsite a few days each week, Alex knew he didn’t have much time before the project pathway
would be increasingly difficult (and more expensive) to change – he was behind.
He’d already briefly met once with Paul Spires, OnCall’s manager for the system upgrade project. It was a
good meeting with the two getting along well, but Alex still felt he didn’t know much about OnCall and what
he could expect from them. He wasn’t involved in the vendor selection process and hadn’t attended
OnCall’s initial product demonstration.
To learn more about OnCall, Alex checked in with a friend of his working in the City Attorney’s office as a
contract administrator, Lyn Campbell. Lyn pulled the sole source contract with OnCall and together she and
Alex reviewed the contract conditions. In addition to the standard County invoice and payment schedule
(net 30 days), the contract also called for penalties for late delivery or “unacceptable” product quality, but
left determination of detailed delivery dates or “acceptable” product quality open until project parameters
and schedule were determined in the post-award project planning process.
Other than the County’s general contract terms, there weren’t many other contract conditions, and of these
several were of a technical nature beyond which either Alex or Lyn understood. Alex realized he would
need some technical help and, while Paul Spires had been open and answered all of Alex’s questions, Alex
wanted someone with the County’s interest unquestionably in mind. He didn’t know who might be able to
help him internally, but added the research item to his to-do list, and considered the possibility he might
need to either hire someone or seek outside support. The cost of the system upgrade and physical center
configuration had already caused some “sticker shock” in the County, but he thought maybe the events of
the past weekend might help him find additional resources.
Alex had heard all the latest news by Wednesday morning, and knew he needed to do something soon, as
the project was already moving forward: the call center floor plan design had already been approved and
OnCall’s general contracting subcontractor was to begin work to physically change the room layout in four
weeks. The reconfiguration would be the first significant change to the County’s current way of doing
business and Alex was concerned about potential disruption to call taker and dispatcher activities. Perhaps
it was time to ask OnCall, their general subcontractor (Superior Construction, Inc) and at least one
representative from the Police Department – to sit down together and not only review the existing upgrade
and call center plan but also see if they could find a way for the project to respond to some of the problems
the past weekend’s events had identified. At least things were moving forward and the schedule and
budget seemed to be going as planned. “Well, as far as I know,” he thought.