CADCOM message slow to get through

WESTERN Australian police will not be using their new $100 million digital communications system until October 2003, two years behind schedule.

The Call-Taking Computer-Aided Dispatch and Communications (CADCOM) system was supposed to “go live” in October last year, but delays in the system’s implementation stage have forced police to significantly revise their timetable for CADCOM’s rollout.

The project involves the provision of call-taking and computer-aided dispatch systems at the new Midland Operational Support Facility, connectivity into the existing country radio systems and the acquisition of a digital trunked radio network service covering greater metropolitan Perth. Other emergency services are expected to use CADCOM once it has proved itself.

Accounting firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers completed a review of CADCOM last month on behalf of the State Government and, while the review has not yet been tabled in Parliament, the system is believed to have been given a tick of approval.

Inspector Geoff Maloney, CADCOM project director, confirmed operational staff would occupy the Midland communications centre at the end of August this year, and that they would be using some new technology combined with the existing UHF police radio network. But the TETRA (Terrestrial Trunked Radio) platform will not be operating until October 2003, and the call-taking dispatch equipment will not be integrated with the digital trunked radio network until then.

In the meantime, police will continue to use the old UHF network, but with new computerised telephony and also new voice management systems. This will allow police to receive more calls at the one time than is currently possible.

Inspector Maloney said the prime contractor – BAE Systems Australia Ltd – was finding the integration of the three types of equipment to be more complicated than originally expected. But BAE, not the Police Service, was responsible for resolving this problem.

The CADCOM project is part of the Police Service’s Delta Communications and Information Technology (DCAT) project, which is intended to reform the service’s business systems and streamline administrative processes. In 1998, a five-year contract was signed with DMR Consulting and ICL (UK) for those companies to provide advice and support to the police service on the implementation of the DCAT project.

Tenders for the contract to provide equipment and support for CADCOM closed in April 1999, and in June 2000 the winning tenderer – a consortium led by BAE – signed a contract with the police service.

Under the contract, BAE was to provide and service the facilities and communications and other equipment for six years after the construction of facilities was completed. The CADCOM building in Midland – the first stage of the Midland Operational Support Facility – was completed in July last year at a cost of $12 million.

TETRA is a digital wireless network communications technology that can transfer both voices and data. It can connect to other digital technologies, such as Global Positioning Systems and computer servers and, unlike analogue radio, it cannot be listened to by scanners, which is one of the main reasons the WA Police Service chose it.

TETRA is used by police forces overseas, but only as a stand-alone system. The CADCOM system to be used by the WA Police is the first instance where a police service is combining radio and computer dispatch technology. CADCOM also will allow police to directly access central databases when they are in the field.

But since TETRA came to prominence, tele-communications experts have reported difficulties in making terminals and other infrastructure equipment from different manufacturers interoperable. It appears this is what is happening in Western Australia.

While BAE Systems is the main contractor to the police service, subcontractors include Printrak International (which is providing the “Premier CAD” computer-aided dispatch system), Simoco (providers of a trunked mobile radio system), and Plessey (providers of a digital voice management system that will coordinate radio and telephone traffic within the communication centre).

While all the necessary equipment has been installed at the CADCOM building and the various components are said to be working well independently, combining the different systems has so far proved to be an insurmountable problem.

Compounding the technical problems have been other issues. For example, for CADCOM to work, more than 30 radio towers have to be installed around the Perth metropolitan area. In some cases the owners of properties on which the towers would be sited have increased the prices they originally agreed to, causing delays in the installation of the towers.

The project also has been the subject of political wrangling over how much funding is available for it. The State Government has accused its predecessor of not properly providing for expenditure on CADCOM in future years, and this fact, combined with the timetable blowout, led it to commission PriceWaterhouseCoopers’ review.

WA Police Union president Michael Dean said police fully supported the introduction of a new system, particularly given the current system was 25 years out of date, but they were frustrated by the delays in implementation.

“We really need these systems up and running and the vast majority of the police service very much supports the programs. The difficulty is it has taken so many years and it’s not up-to-scratch yet,” Mr Dean said.

“Money is extremely tight in operational policing areas, and for other capital works it’s virtually dried up over the past couple of years. A lot of senior staff are becoming quite resentful over the fact this is eating money like you wouldn’t believe and it’s still not ready for performance.”

Neither DMR Consulting nor BAE Systems was available for comment.

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