South suburban officials voice concerns with 911 system
The 911 system that emergency responders in Olympia Fields, Matteson, Richton Park and Park Forest rely on is error-prone and not getting better, according to Olympia Fields Police Chief John Krull.
Krull said in the six months he has been police chief, he has heard the same gripes about the $1.5 million system from his officers that have been voiced since it first went live in 2011.
“Every time I hear one change is made, two problems are created because of that change,” Krull said. “Now everyone is throwing up their hands, going, ‘It’s not working.’ ”
Krull made the comments during a SouthCom Board meeting Thursday at the Olympia Fields village hall. SouthCom Dispatch Center fields all 911 calls for the four towns.
Police and fire chiefs and village managers also attended the meeting, and three executives from the international firm that built the system, Frequentis, were on hand to field complaints and answer questions. They were Robert Nitsch, who works out of the company’s Austrian headquarters; and Vince Campanella and John Theuerkauf, of the company’s American headquarters in Virginia.
The SouthCom Dispatch Center, at 2113 Dettmering St., Matteson, bought the system from Frequentis for $1.5 million in 2008.
Touted by local officials as the company’s U.S. beta site — defined as a test site for working out the bugs — the system went online in 2011, one year later than promised and about $100,000 over budget. But officials think the bugs have hung around too long.
“I don’t buy that,” said Krull, who is also SouthCom board chairman. “Yes, it’s a beta site. That can only go for so long.”
The SouthtownStar reported in March 2012 that SouthCom dispatchers claimed in a logbook that the system was prone to freezes, giving dispatchers the wrong 911 callback numbers, and has had problems transferring calls to local police and fire departments, among other things.
Some officials also have said Frequentis was unresponsive to complaints.
“What should have been a success story appeared to be anything but from our side, which is a quandary for us,” Campanella said. “This notion of ‘Frequentis is abandoning us or is not committed to a partnership,’ is not true. We continue to spend money and resources daily on SouthCom.”
Nitsch said that some of the system’s problems are related to a lightning strike that hit the SouthCom Dispatch Center soon after the Frequentis system went live. He also said telephone hardware the company received to test the 911 system is different than that which the dispatch center actually uses.
Nitsch said the company has invested $6 million into developing the system already and claimed some of the issues could have been fixed if users showed up for training.
“If they don’t get trained, they will say, ‘Forget about it, we can’t use it,’ ” Nitsch said. “Without training, this is really something you can’t do.”
Nitsch promised that the senior program manager would be put in charge of fixing the system. He also said there would be stronger management oversight, including sign-off requirements prior to any system change, and regular meetings between SouthCom and Frequentis officials to resolve lingering issues.
Park Forest village manager Tom Mick said he was looking at a September timeframe to fix the problems.
“My biggest concern is what we’re looking for as far as a solution is not an easy fix,” Mick said. “It’s definitely not a cheap fix. We are getting to that point where we are getting fed up.”
Several attendees were skeptical of the executives’ promises.
“As you say this will be the model of the United States, the model platform, when is that going to be?” Matteson Deputy Police Chief Michael Jones said. “How long are we going to deal with this? Everyone says ‘Timetable, timetable, timetable,’ but when?”