There are fresh calls to scrap the UK government's FiReControl project after the government admitted to paying £40,000 a day to maintain new regional fire service control centers, which are empty because the technology is not ready, a story in Computing.co.uk reports.
The FiReControl system, which was to integrated 46 stand alone fire department control rooms into 9 regional centers, was initiated in March 2004 and slated to be completed by November of 2007. The government promised that it would use "tried and tested" technology to ensure that a rapid (and cost contained) implementation would ensue. That didn't happen, as costs have exploded from the original project estimate of £100 million to now some £420 million.
The government Fire Services minister in charge of the project also said that the FiReControl system is scheduled to be ready by 2011, although the minister and the contractor developing the system, EADS, refuses to guarantee the date.
Even 2011 seems suspiciously optimistic. As I noted in June of 2009, official planning then was that the first three Regional Control Centers would go into operation in 2010, and the whole system in spring of 2012. From all indications, development progress has not improved since then (the estimated cost of the project last year was £350 million), although EADS claims that the project is stabilized.
The Fire Services minister also admitted that the project was bungled from the beginning. He was quoted by Computing.co.uk as saying, "The truth is that this didn't start off too well. Insufficient work had been done with the fire and rescue community and others to understand where we were going with this. The concept and vision was fine but I don't think the detailed work was there."
The FiReControl system probably deserves to be scrapped, but the reality is that doing so may make the situation worse. The president of the Chief Fire Officers Association said that scrapping the project would leave many local fire services without call centers and those with call centers operating with obsolete equipment, since the local fire services didn't invest in any new call center equipment because they were going to be shut down.
So, despite the most recent calls to shut the FiReControl program down, I suspect the solution will be to soldier on, and for UK taxpayers to keep paying an ever increasing bill for a system that will probably also be obsolete by the time it is deployed.
At which time, the next government can start a new project to refresh the technology.
Robert N. Charette is a Contributing Editor to IEEE Spectrum and an acknowledged international authority on information technology and systems risk management. A self-described “risk ecologist,” he is interested in the intersections of business, political, technological, and societal risks. Charette is an award-winning author of multiple books and numerous articles on the subjects of risk management, project and program management, innovation, and entrepreneurship. A Life Senior Member of the IEEE, Charette was a recipient of the IEEE Computer Society’s Golden Core Award in 2008.