County officials give Geo-Comm deadline for AVL system

If Geo-Comm can’t make its latest solution to make the AVL (automated vehicle location) system work in Callaway County by July 18, the three local emergency agencies that utilize the service say they are ready to part ways with the software company.

That was the conclusion reached after an hour-and-a-half teleconference between Geo-Comm and representatives with the Callaway County Commission, the Callaway County Ambulance District and the Callaway County Sheriff’s Office Wednesday afternoon.

The AVL system — which is designed to work in conjunction with Geo-Comm’s Geographic Information Services mapping system also in use at the Callaway County Emergency Operations Center — is supposed to show dispatchers at the EOC the location of sheriff’s office and ambulance district vehicles when they are out on patrol, as well as send routing information back to the vehicles. Administrators with the EOC, county, Sheriff’s Office and ambulance district also have the ability to remote-access the system and see that same information.

The system, however, has not been working, often failing to emit the GPS signal properly, and county officials say they are tired of waiting for Geo-Comm to fix it.

“It sounds like everybody’s on the same page: We’re frustrated. Let’s get it fixed or cut ties,” Western District Commissioner Doc Kritzer said before the call started.

“They’re trying, they just can’t get it (fixed),” agreed CCAD Director Charlie Anderson.

The teleconference started with a review from Geo-Comm representatives Stacy Gross, the account manager and Scott Wolhart, the tech services manager, over what the issues have been.

“Obviously this has taken longer than it should. I hope to explain Geo-Comm’s side and clearly demonstrate that it’s not through lack of effort — we’re putting 110 percent into this,” Wolhart said.

Wolhart said that the “issues are pretty much isolated to the sheriff’s office,” a stance Anderson took exception to.

“That’s not entirely correct, we’re having some of the same issues with our vehicles losing the signal ... and not recovering it, even after the computers are restarted,” Anderson said.

Wolhart said that the information he had prepared for Wednesday afternoon’s teleconference was focused on the sheriff’s office as his understanding had been that the ambulance district’s issues were minimal.

He went on to explain that the biggest problem for the sheriff’s office is with the computer docks in the patrol cars.

“In a traditional scenario where it is docked, (Windows) XP initializes a communication port the GPS is plugged into ... and from there sends data to the server. That’s what should happen,” Wolhart said. “The challenge in the sheriff’s units revolves around hot docking — the laptop is powered on when you take it out and bring it in (the office to work on paperwork, etc.) without closing the software or powering off.

“What happens is the connection to the communications port is abruptly severed — you no longer have a connection to the port.”

He said Geo-Comm technicians and developers have been working hard to come up with a solution to the problem — logging 300 additional hours on the project — occasionally achieving success before again encountering hiccups. Part of the issue there, Wolhart said, is an inability to recreate the sheriff’s office’s equipment — one of the two docking systems is no longer available — in the Geo-Comm lab.

“We went through several iterations of software trying to nail down (the issue). We require the hardware in order to set it up in our lab and accurately create the environment,” Wolhart said. “We haven’t been able to accurately recreate their environment and exact errors in our lab.”

With no extra units available to send to Geo-Comm, Sgt. Clay Chism, Sheriff Dennis Crane, Kritzer and Anderson all at various points suggested it might be helpful if Geo-Comm would instead send someone to Callaway to observe the system at work in the field.

“You can’t solve a problem until you figure out what the problem is. I think you’re chasing your tails here,” Kritzer said. “The problem exists out here in the field. I think somebody needs to be out here and witness the problem as it occurs, under real time and maybe that will give you some ideas on how to fix it.”

That suggestion was rejected each time it was mentioned.

“It’s really hard for us to take development and send it on-site because we have all our tools and everything here in the lab,” Wolhart said. “For us, the tried and true method is to get that environment set up here in our lab and really hammer at it.”

After further discussion in which Wolhart continued to insist Geo-Comm needs one of the docks in order to properly test and diagnose the problem, the Callaway officials got impatient with what appeared to be an unsolvable problem which Crane expressed should not have been a problem to begin with.

“It’s a year into it. You knew what our equipment was when you came to us and you said it could work, and it’s still not working,” Crane said. “Bottom line is, we’re not sure if you’re ever going to get it to work. Listening to you, you’re not even sure you’re ever going to be able to resolve this.

“We’re not trying to blame, we’re just trying to figure out resolution. We want this to work, but sometimes you need to scrap things.”

Crane suggested that if Geo-Comm is unable to get the system functional for Callaway by the 1-year point of installation on July 18, then the county and Geo-Comm part ways.

“I think its’ fair if we don’t have it working by July 18, if I was on your side I would look at walking away,” Gross agreed, adding that, “When we talk about coming to a successful outcome, we have to agree on what a successful outcome is.”

Wolhart shared several options for the next step in the search for a solution, including one that the Callaway officials liked: A discreet external GPS modem that would eliminate the problem with the dock altogether.

“If we were going to do it over again, I would recommend those,” Wolhart said.

He and Gross agreed to get the sheriff’s office and the ambulance district some modems to test over the next few weeks. Kritzer asked what the cost for the modems would be if the modems work and that is the option the county services go with.

Gross said the modems are approximately $650 each. Anderson asked if Geo-Comm would be covering the cost of the modems.

“We could maybe come up with something to see what kind of discount we can get you,” Gross said. “I can’t say it would be free, but we can make it pretty cheap.”

After the teleconference was concluded, the Callaway officials still did not seem entirely pleased with how the meeting went.

“If (the modems were) the best solution, why not bring it up (when the system was reviewed) in October, or at the beginning?” Anderson asked. “I think they need to give us this equipment.”

Crane pointed out that not only would the modems themselves be an additional cost, but “we’re also going to have to pay for installation.”

“We have almost $100,000 invested in this (so far),” Kritzer said. “If another $1,000 would get us up and running we would have to evaluate that, but if it doesn’t work we need to look at other options.”

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