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From The Ground Up

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' 24-hour command center is impressive, not only for the complexity and importance of the data it handles, but for its creation as well.

Dean Ross, director of the center, and colleague Brent Guffey, senior systems engineer, designed the center in only two days and were given 60 days to build it--HSS Secretary Tommy Thompson wanted it up and running as quickly as possible. The two-man team not only accomplished the job, but they completed the project one day early at a cost of $3.7 million--26% below the project budget of $5 million. Ross, who has experience in government acquisitions, handled the vendor procurement, while Guffey focused on engineering. Ross and Guffey did the bulk of the work, although they did need some help now and then--like when it took six people to pull just one of the bundles of the 11-1/2 miles of wire used to connect the command center with its control room down the hall.

Guffey has firsthand experience dealing with technology challenges during times of monumental crises. On Sept. 11, 2001, he was sent to New York to help set up phones, radios, and other communications devices for use by emergency responders.

Though the team completed the command center a day ahead of deadline, those 59 days were intense. "I worked 1,000 hours of overtime last year," Ross recalls. He got paid for some of that overtime, but the key driver for Ross and his command center staff is a love of their work. "People here are very dedicated to what they do," he says.

The center is still a work in progress. "It's never really finished. It's very dynamic," Ross says. "Next week, something else in the room will be new."

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