For three years, Baltimore County officials have planned a state-of-the-art, $32 million emergency communications system.
They built a $2 million communications center, erected eight radio towers to receive its signals and hired the only contractor willing to commit to building a system that would link police and fire calls to a complicated system of computers.
There's only one problem: It doesn't work yet.
The system, which was supposed to have been operating by Jan. 31, will be delayed until next January because of problemswith creating the necessary computer software.
County Administrator Frank C. Robey Jr. said at a news briefing yesterday that the county has been leaning hard on the contractor, Motorola Inc., which was the only company to bid on the $27 million project three years ago.
But Mr. Robey said four different deadlines agreed to since January by Motorola have not been met.
"To say we are disappointed would be an understatement," he said.
Dick Day, a vice president and general manager for Motorola, said a major problem is that the computer firm hired as a subcontractor to create the software used a misguided approach in trying to create a "one-of-a-kind package" that would link 911 dispatchers taking calls with available patrol cars and fire rescue equipment.
"It's like being in a maze. . . . If you don't have a map, you can't get out of the maze," said Mr. Day, who met with reporters in Mr. Robey's office.
A spokesman for the software firm, Diversified Computer Products of Tampa, Fla., disputed that assessment but declined to comment further.
Proponents say the system will be the most advanced in the nation. Dispatchers will be able to locate the police cars nearest to a caller automatically and direct them with an electronic message beamed into their patrol cars.
The system now depends on dispatchers knowing the location of the nearest car and contacting it by radio.
Mr. Robey said the county intends to bill Motorola for expenses incurred because of the delays. He said he could not put a dollar figure on those costs.
Mr. Robey said the system was designed to avoid problems like those experienced after the January 1987 Amtrak train crash in Chase in which 16 people were killed, when police and fire officials had difficulty communicating with each other.
The county also has "dead spots" in the current system.