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Questions Remain for Project Shield

Saturday, February 11, 2012

by Carol Marin And Don Moseley

A Project Shield camera, which was supposed to aid first responders in times of crisis, was placed in a Stroger Hospital mobile mammography van, according to a 2006 Cook County government internal document. 

“I have worked on terrorism for 25 years and I’m at a loss to try and figure out what theory of security you could fit that one into,” said DePaul University terrorism expert Tom Mockaitis.  “I have no idea.” 

The camera was plagued with technical problems.  

According to the December 8, 2006 memo the “…the front camera video display was not coming up…” A video message stated:  “Waiting for the system to warm up and/or initialize.”    

In January an audit by the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said millions may have been wasted in Project Shield. The IG’s report mirrored problems found in numerous NBC5/Chicago Sun-Times reports. 

Like mobile cameras that didn’t work properly, pole cameras that weren’t attached and frustration by suburban police departments that opted out of Project Shield due to technical problems. The big public rollout for Project Shield came in 2008.

Officials showed off how cameras were supposed to beam live video from squad cars to a central command, where, ostensibly, critical decisions could be made in the event of a terrorist attack or emergency. 

“This is the time when our local law enforcement officials need this type of technology,”  then County’s Chief Information Officer, Antonio Hylton, said at the time.
According to a list of vehicles to be outfitted with Project Shield cameras were 6 public health vehicles plus a public health command van.
That says former Cook County Commissioner Tony Peraica, a long-standing critic of Project Shield, was a useless application of first responder equipment.
“It was just a place to dump the equipment that they didn’t know what to do with,” Peraica contends.
Project Shield had 3 phases.  The original prime contractor was IBM. After many technical problems were uncovered in Phases 1 and 2, in 2008, Johnson Controls became the prime contractor in Phase 3.  Not until that last phase did the County also award a Quality Assurance contract.
The QA contract went to Chicago based Synch Solutions, which was paid, according to the County, approximately $860,000.
The head of the company is John Sterling, the stepson of former Illinois Senate President Emil Jones, a political ally of then-Cook County Board President Todd Stroger.
Among the company’s duties, according to a copy of the Cook County Board’s agenda at the time, was to “... support the quality reviews, quality audits…as well as customer acceptance testing.” 
But in Phase 3 problems persisted and complaints by County Commissioners continued.
“This is failing on all accounts,” said former County Commissioner and current Congressman Mike Quigley in a 2009 interview.
 “It’s not working, the taxpayers are not getting what they deserve for their money,” said former Commissioner and current CTA President Forrest Claypool in 2009.
Six months after Todd Stroger was defeated in his 2010 re-election primary bid, Synch Solutions, according to the County, was paid its last invoice.
In June 2011, new Board President Toni Preckwinkle, shut Project Shield down.
In January a 6-month audit by the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security found among other things: equipment malfunctions, unused equipment and uncertainty on how to use the equipment.
Questions to Synch Solutions about whether or not the company with the Quality Control contract agreed or disagreed with the Inspector General’s report went unanswered.
But Peraica said, unlike the IG, Sterling’s company never raised a red flag.
“He didn’t see any of these abuses that the Inspector General found out,” said Peraicia.
IBM did not respond to this story but in past stories has declined to comment.
Johnson Controls issued a statement, which reads: “Johnson Controls completed all of its obligations under the contract for the third and final phase of the Project Shield initiative with Cook County. We stand ready to review our work with local and federal officials.”
In January, Senator Mark Kirk and Congressman Mike Quigley said, since its inception, Project Shield may have wasted at least $20-million. 
Peraica says if any money was wasted, he has a legal remedy the County should pursue through civil action.
“Yes, it’s called breach of contract,” he said. 

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