Chicago's Project Shield Effort Years Late and Over Budget

There was another depressingly familiar story last week in the Chicago-Sun Times on a government IT project called "Project Shield." It is supposed to provide Chicago's Cook County with a state-of-the-art broadband capability to stream live video from dozens of fixed and mobile video surveillance cameras throughout the Chicago region to first responder command posts, some which are mobile, in case of a terrorist attack or other emergency.

According to Antonio Hylton, chief information officer of Cook County in a long and very upbeat story on Project Shield posted in July 2009 at the EMSResponder.com wrote that, "Putting information directly in the hands of the public-safety workers who need it most was a key factor behind creating Project Shield."

Sounds like a good idea on the face of it.

What makes this story depressingly familiar, however, is that Project Shield, which was initiated in 2003 and is being paid out of US Department of Homeland Security funding, was originally estimated to cost $31 million and be deployed last year, is now 36% over budget and won't likely be deployed until 2011, if it can be made to completely work by then. In addition, the project has been under scrutiny since March 2007, with charges that the equipment didn't function as required, and that project funding was being misspent and being mismanaged.

A Chicago NBC television story in October of 2008 said that a federal investigation of the project had begun, but it apparently just keeps rolling along anyway.

In fact, in a NWI.com story in March of 2008 when the Phase 3 contract was awarded, Chicago government officials were saying that the technical problems encountered were due to the use of "bleeding edge" technology that had been used in phases 1 and 2 of the project. However, in the NBC October 2008 story above, government officials blamed the Phase 1 and 2 problems on the use of "old technology."

They really need to get their story straight.

Regardless, Chicago officials said in the autumn of 2008 that everything would be well by March of 2009, a mere six months later.

[BTW, the October 2009 Sun Times story noted that on August 7, 2006, Dan Coughlin, executive director of the Cook County Judicial Advisory Council, which oversees the grants, said the "system . . . has been extensively tested and is now operational in 27 municipalities."]

But as the most recent Sun Times story notes, Chicago's Oak Park police department has two police cars outfitted with the Project Shield system, but that in a recent demonstration, "the video from a patrol car driving down a street was so bad it was impossible at times to clearly see."

Oak Park also, the Times story says, has one of three mobile $400,000 command vans for Project Shield. However, the vans haven't been tested to see if they can communicate with one another and they can't access other Project Shield cameras.

That deficiency will be supposed be fixed in the next six months.

What are the odds of that happening?   

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