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ESA firelink comms system withdrawn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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ESA firelink comms system withdrawn
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bugmenot 1:18 pm 27 Jul 07

Strange… the vendors site says Firelink (MAC2?) is capable of communicating with other units. See:
http://www.austechinfo.com.au/products/mac2.html

The MMU offers an operator two-way digital communications between assets and a HQ [snip]

Maybe the ACT system was missing the feature with which to contact other units? Aside from being able to radio comcen normally, were those using it meant to write SMS messages to comcen using the PSP-style controller?

From the hyperlink, I see there’s a small image of some white box & dashboard thing – kind of like the kit stuck in taxis.

Maelinar 8:02 am 26 Jul 07

bugmenot, to answer your question, I’m not aware if the unit could contact other units as message traffic was bidirectional between your unit and comcen.

As such, I believe it was specified on many occasions that a complex mesh network was required instead of a star or tree network.

The problem with a heirachial networks will always be that if you cannot contact your ‘parent’, your network will fail.

Try telling that to somebody with only military communications experience though, and they’ll look at you dumbfounded, because they can’t comprehend not having a superior/subordinate relationship.

bugmenot 5:35 pm 25 Jul 07

Interesting. This post could be partially barking up the wrong tree as I don’t know a lot about TRN or details of the comms systems overhaul. But it strikes me as FireLink is wrong solution for some of the technical problems with bushfire fighting. AFAIK, one of the big problems identified from the 2003 fires was that the radio communications system failed – getting radio communications around was a major headache/not possible. So, for what its worth, the vendor has produced a vehicle tracking system with messaging capability. As far as I see it, a vehicle tracking system isn’t a solution for fixing radio communications. Looks like someone had bought a a tracking system when the firies really wanted better comms. Or am I wrong here?

Was it possible to send messages from the trucks with firelink? It seems unlikely given that the controller appears only to have a few buttons – much less a keyboard. Trying to send an SMS style message during a fire and with gloves on would be rather futile…

Ingeegoodbee 11:54 am 25 Jul 07

Rawhide Kid might be onto somthing – I have had a fair bit of experience with a system adopted by BHP Billiton for vehicles used in South Australian mining operations (and probably elsewhere). A device fitted to each vehicle provides real time information on the vehicles exact location, speed, and route – apparently whoever manages the system can tell where every vehicle is at any time.

Maelinar 9:08 am 25 Jul 07

I don’t regard myself as ill informed.

I have had to defend myself from criticism for using the product inadequately. In my response, I added in my radiotelecommunications qualifications as well, surprisingly, I didn’t ever hear anything back, given I put the onus of blame squarely on Comcen, and could back it up.

I’m also aware that Thumper and Rawhide Kid have also used Firestink in an ‘able to touch the item’ capacity.

So Mr Nice, have you ever used Firestink, or are you the ill informed one ?

P.S. it did have a GPS installed for whoever asked the question. The GPS hardly ever worked, you guessed it, making the unit beep in error.

And yes, there were more serious problems with the unit, as I mentioned in my post, the list was not exhaustive. I opted for a selection of practical day to day errors, over affecting operational ability errors.

As to who is to blame, I’d suggest pointing a finger at the vacant desk of where the analyst should have sat who defined the operational requirements of the RFS/SES etc. I mention vacant desk because I’m not aware if any analysis actually happened by a person actually qualified in analysis, and therefore, knowing what they were doing.

Thumper 7:57 am 25 Jul 07

Mr Nice,

The reason the RFS and SES didn’t want it was simply because it did not work as it was supposed to and if anything added to the confusion.

Mr Nice 10:06 pm 24 Jul 07

What a load of shit has been written by the ill informed.

The real reason it was canned is because the RFS don’t want it – or anything else that can track them. To parphrase an email I’ve seen from a senior RFS person – “the RFS does not want any type of tacking system fitted to our vehicles”

Funny now the’ve gone back to managing people with a map on a bonnet of a car, that agian step forward. AIIMS, span of contol, all bulshit and lipservice.

I reckon we should of accepted there resignations and looked for some new, younger members.

bonfire 1:29 pm 19 Jul 07

i work for an org with specialised requirements, often mil spec gear is offered by suppliers.

great – except that 90% of the functions just arent required.

which is why field staff use ten year old kit (although we are supposed to get rid of it after three years).

bugmenot 1:25 pm 19 Jul 07

Whatever its called, dumping a multi-million dollar system after a couple of years indicates some big stuff gone wrong. Some govt figures seemed to think it was the best thing since sliced bread. On the other hand, a bloke I know from the NSW volunteer firies said something about the ACT blokes who used it found it pretty crappy. Not sure of any details. But it sounds like the thing didn’t work as the company said it would.

#2 strikes me as trying to sell expensive ‘military’ equipment to an organisation with a tight budget is pretty risky.

bonfire 10:20 am 19 Jul 07

if you do a backflip you land facing the same way.

maybe its more of a backpedal ?

Thumper 8:31 am 19 Jul 07

At least Simon bit the bullet and canned the whole thing.

bugmenot 6:30 pm 18 Jul 07

Figured I had to post this quote from:
http://www.esa.act.gov.au/Media/May_2004/45-2004.html

“ATI is a local business in Canberra, and the ACT Government is delighted that commerce within the territory can produce such a suitable product, allowing the Government to support local business in this venture” Commissioner Dunn said today.

Suitable product? Looks like something of a backflip now…

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.

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