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911 board on hunt for new dispatch system

By Brad Hicks

Two companies wish to provide the computer-aided dispatch system for Unicoi County 911 center, and representatives from each were in town on Monday to make their pitch to the Unicoi County Emergency Communications District Board.

The board met at 3 p.m. on Monday, June 19, at which time bids submitted for the new computer-aided dispatch, or CAD, system were opened. The companies submitting bids were the Knoxville-based GeoConex and the Wilmington, N.C.-based Zuercher Technologies.

These bids were set to be opened during the board’s May 15 meeting, but concerns over whether adequate notice was provided to the public ahead of that meeting delayed the opening of the bids until Monday.

Daniel Yarnell with GeoConex told the board his company, founded around 15 years ago, works with 60 to 70 percent of the counties in Tennessee, as well as entities throughout the Southeast.

“I have to tell you all, it’s exciting for our company for me to be here today because we’ve been wanting to do business with you guys for a long time, and the opportunity has finally presented itself for you all to be looking at a proposal from our company,” Yarnell said to the board.

The GeoConex proposal provides a base price of $108,381. This amount, Yarnell said, includes an option that would allow dispatchers to conduct National Crime Information Center queries through the CAD. If the Emergency Communications District Board forwent this option, it would bring the base price down to $97,556, Yarnell said.

Yarnell said the GeoConex proposal includes workstations, monitors, the server necessary for the CAD system and other hardware. He said the server and workstations would come with a five-year warranty, and that the proposal includes onsite training.

Yarnell said the yearly maintenance cost to the Unicoi County Emergency Communications District Board would be a little more than $8,580, plus an additional $1,600 if the board moves to include the NCIC option. Yarnell said there would be no charge for the first year of maintenance. GeoConex would also provide updates to the system and software through maintenance, Yarnell said.

Yarnell said it would take around four to eight weeks to complete data conversion and hardware installation for the GeoConex system.

David Jones with Zuercher Technologies told the board his company, which works primarily with small- to medium-sized counties and cities, was founded more than 14 years ago and has between 275 to 300 customers across 40 states.

“In that time, we’ve never failed a project and we’ve never had our CAD system replaced, ever,” Jones said. “So our reputation, our track record, is very important to us, and I don’t think there’s another vendor out there with that track record.”

The standard cost presented in the Zuercher Technologies proposal is $87,635. The proposal includes $50,121 in options and add-ons, including the NCIC queries through CAD, that the board could elect to include with the system.

Jones said the Zuercher proposal includes the physical server needed to run the CAD, the operating system software and the database needed for its operation. The proposal also includes a “testing/training server” which would allow dispatchers to familiarize themselves with features of the Zuercher software updates which occur every three months, Jones said. The proposal also includes mapping and the GIS services behind it, Jones said.

Jones said the yearly maintenance cost through Zuercher would be around $12,000 to $15,000. Like Yarnell, Jones said the first year of maintenance would be included in the contract. Jones added Zuercher takes “100 percent responsibility” for its software, server, operating system and database.

“What that means to our customers is that we monitor your system in real-time, and we’ll know before you do if there’s any issues and, if there are, it’s our responsibility to fix it,” Jones said, adding his company also conducts system backups for its customers. 

Jones said it could take anywhere from two to six months from the time the contract with Zuercher is signed before the CAD system it provides goes live.

Unicoi Volunteer Fire Department Chief Robert Adams suggested that board members take time to study the two proposals before making a decision. Adams motion to that effect was unanimously approved by the board, and the panel will consider acceptance of one of the proposals during its July meeting.

The need for a new CAD system has been a topic of discussion for several months. During the Emergency Communications District Board’s January meeting, Emergency Communications District Board Chairman Bill Hensley appointed Adams and Unicoi County 911 Director Travis Chandler to research possible replacement systems. During its March meeting, the board voted to put out a request for proposal to obtain bids from companies interested in providing a new system.

Adams said in March that Unicoi County 911 is experiencing compatibility issues with its current CAD system, adding the system was outdated when it was purchased several years ago when the local 911 center was relocated to the county’s Jail Annex. He said only one other district in the state uses the same system as Unicoi County.

The board on Monday also approved its budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year. The budget reflects a proposed $507,766 in total revenues and losses against $477,860 in total operating expenses.

The board also voted to put $12,000 toward new fencing, gating and guard rails at the 911 center. Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley said he previously acquired price quotes for this work, with the estimates provided being in the $22,000 to $24,000 range. Per the board’s vote, the board’s money will be provided to the county which, upon consideration by the Unicoi County Commission, is to pay for the remainder of the work. If the work is not completed, the $12,000 will be returned to the Emergency Communications District Board.

The goal of the undertaking would be to increase safety and security for the center, which is located in the same building as the Unicoi County Jail Annex and the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department’s administrative offices.

Also discussed by the board was a reduction in the number of paid holidays Unicoi County 911 employees will receive going forward. Currently, employees receive 13 paid holiday, but county 911 officials are discussing the removal of Columbus Day, Election Day and the Unicoi County Apple Festival from the list. The board opted to have local attorney Jim Pate draw up a policy for the board’s consideration at a future meeting.