The best news about Deschutes County 911’s radio system is that it hasn’t been in the news lately. There are still occasional performance hiccups, but it’s nothing like it was after it launched in 2017.

Deschutes County and Harris Corp., the project contractor, horribly botched the launch of the $5 million digital radio system for law enforcement. Police had to fight through dropped and garbled transmissions for months to try to protect the public and keep themselves safe. Seven law enforcement agencies wrote to 911 criticizing the system. Bend police officers complained to the state in December 2017 that the system was so poor it threatened their safety.

Why rehash those bad old days now? Because the same parties that brought Deschutes County that deeply flawed launch are preparing an upgrade.

The county’s system piggybacks on the Oregon Department of Transportation’s network. ODOT must, it says, upgrade its hardware and software. That means Deschutes County will need an upgrade, as well.

Who is the contractor for this state upgrade? Harris Corp., again.

Any upgrades may sail through in a dazzling display of project management. But the county, ODOT and Harris must revisit how Deschutes County’s project went so wrong. The best place to start is by rereading the audit of project prepared at the county’s request by Trott Communications Group of Texas.

First off, the county’s contract with Harris failed to protect taxpayer money by ensuring adequate testing before payment. That’s, in part, the county’s fault. We also have to question why the contractor would not insist on better performance testing.

County commissioners were also not paying close attention to a $5 million county project. Staff failed to inform them of important changes to the project and created grossly inflated expectations for its performance. The county made the mistake of trying to handle a complicated technological change without adequate technological expertise. The technological consultant hired by the county was even told it was not needed. Training for users of the new system was inadequate, to say the least.

County commissioners and 911 staff have apparently learned from those mistakes. They have tried to boost 911’s technological expertise and implemented other changes. Sara Crosswhite, the new director of 911, has made every effort to be transparent in our dealings with her. In terms of the upgrade, she told us 911 is “conducting a full analysis on what fiscal and technical impacts this will have on us and what alternative options may be.”

Did Harris learn from its mistakes in Deschutes County? Public safety depends on it.

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