More than four years ago, the Sacramento region's major fire departments decided they needed a faster, more modern dispatch system to handle 911 calls for fires and medical emergencies, one that would cost millions of dollars but help save lives by speeding up response times.
The departments, which serve 1.5 million people in an area stretching from Folsom through Sacramento to the Delta, sent the matter out for bids and settled on a winner in 2015, signing a contract calling for the new computer-aided dispatch system to go live on Nov. 6, 2017.
Instead, after having paid out more than $2.1 million, fire officials say they are still waiting, and they have filed a federal fraud and breach of contract lawsuit claiming that the firm now says the system will take another 17 to 22 years to complete.
"In effect, defendants' conduct has put the lives of people and first responders who service the Sacramento region at risk," according to the lawsuit, which was filed in federal court in Sacramento by the Sacramento Regional Public Safety Communications Center. "In an emergency, a delay of even seconds, let alone minutes, that could have been avoided with a modern CAD system may be the only difference between life and death."
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The lawsuit names New World Systems Corp., a Michigan firm that agreed to the two-year contract with the departments, and Tyler Technologies, a Plano, Texas, firm that subsequently acquired New World.
Tyler Technologies said in a statement to The Bee Monday that it could not address specifics of the lawsuit's claims but defended its work.
"At Tyler Technologies we are strongly committed to the success of our client engagements; we maintain a 98% retention rate among our 15,000+ clients across the public sector," the company said in an email statement. "Our policy is to work closely with our clients to resolve any issues as quickly as possible, and to our clients’ complete satisfaction.
"For legal reasons, we cannot share specific details about our engagement at the Sacramento Regional Public Safety Communications Center. However, we are confident that the claims asserted against us are without merit, and we look forward to a swift resolution of this matter."
Joe Thuesen, interim chief executive director of of the communications center, said the fire agencies sought a new Windows-based system to replace a COBOL programming system that has been in place since 1995.
"We sought a very specific set of capabilities as part of a planned update to our emergency computer aided dispatch (CAD) software, which New World Systems — now Tyler Technologies — claimed they could deliver during the contract period," Thuesen said in an email. "Unfortunately, those claims were untrue, and it is now clear that the company is many years away from having the capabilities promised.
"Since their current software does not provide the capabilities we contracted for and the company has refused to refund monies paid to date, our lawsuit seeks a refund and damages on behalf of our fire agency members and our local taxpayers. In the meantime, our existing dispatch software can reliably meet our emergency dispatch needs while we restart the process to modernize this computer aided dispatch system."
The lawsuit claims the defendants "failed to fulfill even basic requirements," such as filing monthly status reports on time, and that they submitted documents during the bidding process that contained "misleading and false information" to beat out the other two bidders.
The suit, which seeks triple the amount the departments have spent so far on the system, also claims the defendants "have a custom and practice of failing to perform on their contracts with other government agencies and entities."
The communications center is a joint powers authority that was formed by the Sacramento Metro Fire Department, the city fire departments in Sacramento and Folsom and the Cosumnes Community Services District. The center also provides services through contracts to volunteer firefighters in Courtland, Herald, Isleton, the River Delta area, Walnut Grove and Wilton.
"These services include but are not limited to information technology for routing and dispatching 911 emergency fire and medical aid calls for the greater Sacramento region, which covers approximately 1,000 square miles, servicing 1.5 million people, and is one of the nation's largest communication centers," the lawsuit says.
Last year alone, the center answered more than 350,000 calls and dispatched emergency units more than 204,000 times, according to the suit.