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ESA firelink comms system withdrawn

By Thumper - 13 July 2007 27

[ED (Ntp) – Ari has also submitted a post related to this with links to ABC and CT coverage. His post can be seen by hitting the “more” tag or going into the comments.]

The ESA have admitted making a mistake (ESA Media release here)in buying and implementing the Firelink communications system.

Commissioner Gregor Manson said “The evaluations on the Firelink project indicated that the program is unsuitable for the ESA’s ongoing operations,”

He also added, “I regret to tell the ACT community that $4.5 million was spent on this program which may have instead been used to purchase vital equipment for our volunteers and full time emergency services professionals.

Corbell scraps a 60-Grassby ESA stuff-up – Post submitted by Ari.

The same ESA chiefs who helped bring us the Canberra fires of 2003 also introduced a whiz-bang new communication system costing ACT taxpayers $4.5 million.

Now Emergency Services Minister Simon Corbell (who took over ESA control after the fires) has been forced to scrap it as it’s way too complex for the ACT.

Using the now generally accepted measure for ACT Govt waste, I calculate this stuff-up cost us about 60 Grassbys.

Here’s a quote from the current ESA chief in the ABC’s online coverage.

ESA Commissioner Gregor Manson says the Firelink system is just too sophisticated for the ACT’s needs.

“We’ve really bought a sledgehammer to peel peanuts,” he said.

Much more from the Canberra Times here.

What’s Your opinion?

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27 Responses to
ESA firelink comms system withdrawn
bugmenot 1:59 pm 17 Jul 07

I’ve read articles on the woes of Firelink, so probably not surprising to see that the plug has been pulled. Reading Maelinar’s list of problems with the system, weren’t there much more serious problems, like:
1) not reliable enough to work in the field regularly (hilly areas like Namadgi)
2) updates to the HQ station were much slower than expected (if they got there at all)

A small article in the CT from ages back (around 2005/6?) claimed that an ‘insider’ revealed that the system failed after 15 minutes during a test session in Fairburn (?) forest. It sounds like this has continued to plague the system.

Anyone know more details?

Gungahlin Al 3:34 pm 16 Jul 07

Mael, if the system is as bad as you say (no reason to doubt otherwise), my guess would be that this was their attempt to get out of continuing the project without copping a law suit back from the company, which they clearly would if they came right out and said “the system sucks”.

In the field of project management, one of the really big things drummed into you is knowing when to bail out of a dud – many $$$ more are often wasted by people trying to shoehorn the dud into a passable solution instead if copping the mea culpa.

So they go through this whole “it’s more than we need” charade to bypass defamation actions, and limit the legal fallout to breach of contract – simpler settlement process as it is far less adversarial.

Back in my local government days we inherited a system that sucked big time. $12M down the gurgler, but we had to bite our tongues on that even though the political mileage would have been superb, and just get on with the replacement, which incidentally only cost $4M.

So if any of this surmising is correct, could it be that the various ACT Govt people are sticking steadfastly to the song sheet to actually save us a whole lot more money??

And as to should someone be castrated over it? What would be the lesson from that? Never bail out of dud projects? I hear there is one federal department here that has a habit of doing that, and they’ve got the biggest budget in town. Is that a good role model?

I’m reminded of a story about a Qantas trainee who hit the wrong button and dropped a jet on stands causing $3M in repairs. When trying to hand in his resignation, his boss said “why would I let you quit? I just spent $3M training you.”

jemmy 5:27 pm 14 Jul 07

Maelinar, I’m guessing the embargo means it won’t make Friday’s paper and it gives a full day for other news to push it off Saturday’s as well, plus Sat’s edition is “weak” news anyway so it’s less likely to run.

Rawhide Kid No 2 11:38 am 14 Jul 07

Why don’t they just have GPS systems in each vehicle and then the Driver of the unit only has to report their position to the Comms people . Simple and accurate while in the bush . And in Urban areas just relay their street location. Again simple and cheap.

Thumper 10:21 am 14 Jul 07

PMKeys… Enough said…

I like MAel’s idea. We need a pseudo war cabinet room with a huge table on which is a great big map of the ACT.

Then someone can get little matchbox cars and push them around.

At least it would work 🙂

Maelinar 3:58 pm 13 Jul 07

Way back in the olden days, they had a great big map and some good looking chick (probably my grandmother) would get a stick out and move a unit from place to place when radio communications updated their position.

That system is more accurate than Firestink, and the date was World War 2.

And the ACT’s not that big that kind of system wouldn’t work here anyway. We’re only talking 40-50 vehicles on the road at any one time at a major response level.

anon1972 3:57 pm 13 Jul 07

3 major stuff-ups: PMKeys, DMO Change Management, ESA Firelink. Common denominator: Peter Dunn.

smokey4 3:36 pm 13 Jul 07

Still does not address the need for multi agency deployments. Lets face it the ACT needs to use inter-agency (within ACT) and interstate support to provide sufficent resources in any medium to large emergency responce. Central Comms should not need to track individual units. That should be the responsibility of the group commander/ captain in charge of those vehicles.

Having been in an incident where we had 164 vehicles deployed it is impossible and unecessary for a central command to track each individual vehicle. Best to group them in 5 truck strike teams working through a strike team commander. Five strike teams to a sector etc.
I suppose with the ACT’s 20 trucks all the fireies know each other by their first names etc.

Maelinar 3:05 pm 13 Jul 07

Embargoed until 0600 Friday 13 July 2007

Why the need to embargo until Friday ?

VYBerlinaV8 now_with 2:40 pm 13 Jul 07

Clearly the ESA used a series interpretive dances, augmented with osmisis to define their requirements. Perhaps they could reperform that fine effort to show the Canberra community what they really meant.

KandyA 2:33 pm 13 Jul 07

sure sounds like a piece o crap !
I agree with vyBv8nwag – someone mustve reccommended this system….
shoot em I say! (sorry, was reading the didnt know assult, rape were wrong story above- wonder if same defence can be made for …..SHOOTING! )

VYBerlinaV8 now_with 2:24 pm 13 Jul 07

Maybe people who are trained as firefighters and emergency services shouldn’t be playing in the business systems acquisitions area. I don’t believe they have any real capability around defining requirements, and assessing technology to determine it’s adherence to requirements. Fundamentally, they should not be in charge of their own business destiny if they can’t field resources to cover off such basic things.

This is one of those areas where to govt should simply hire the (expensive) specialists who can get this stuff right for them the first time, instead of meddling in an area of business they clearly know very little about.

Rawhide Kid No 2 12:21 pm 13 Jul 07

First FireLink then “maybe” TRN and were back to square one. Its all in the moneys available. Don’t forget TRN is also a large ongoing costs to the ACT Government as well. This time next year they may be back on the old VHF network. Least they own that one.

Maelinar 11:58 am 13 Jul 07

the Firelink system is just too sophisticated for the ACT’s needs.


When you decide to implement a product that is still in development you shouldn’t try to cover your ass with a too sophisticated statement.

If anything, it wasn’t sophisticated enough. Too sophisticated, yes, for the late 70’s when dot matrix printers were a big ticket item, but not in todays IT world.

To place the issue on the playing field, too sophisticated in this case, is referring to an item which is about the same size as a PSP, with 4 buttons down each side, and a couple of other navigation buttons to the right.

The display was a *really modern* LCD format, just change your font to ‘system’ for an example of that modernity, and they were linked to the buttons as there was no touchscreen capability.

Menu items were ill-designed, and they did not follow what could be described as industry standard dialog design. Infact, they were downright illogical.

The on/off button did not turn it off, or on.

The unit, if properly installed, would flatten your battery in a matter of weeks. Most units took immediate action to ‘adjust’ this situation.

And the thing beeped at you every 2 minutes. Regardless of what you were doing, it would beep at you, and if you typed in the wrong thing, it would beep at you, if you typed in the right thing, it would beep at you.

Comcen didn’t help either, because they would attempt to help you from their end, resulting in the unit beeping incessantly at you, with nothing you could do apart from reach for a pair of wirecutters.

This list is not exhaustive.

Thumper 11:43 am 13 Jul 07

I like Ari’s take on it.

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