ELFS keeps track of case files
- By Dibya Sarkar
- Feb 04, 2003
San Diego County Department of Child Support Services
Finding case files floating among the 800 or so attorneys, paralegals and
other staff members within San Diego County's Department of Child Support
Services used to be so difficult that workers sometimes joked that elves
After an attorney would check out a file from a central repository,
or bank, it would pass from one individual to another without any real way
of tracking it. E-mail messages among workers even offered rewards for locating
"It really was chaos," said Darius Fattahipour, a senior information
technology engineer for the department. Up to 20 percent to 30 percent of
about 180,000 paper files usually were missing, he said, adding that it
sometimes took file runners six to eight hours to find just one.
But this year, the department began operating a secure wireless system
— amusingly dubbed the Electronic Locator File System, or ELFS — that
helps officials find and deliver bar coded files within two hours, guaranteed.
Now, via a browser-based intranet, individuals select their name from
a drop-down list and can request up to 10 files by keying in a bar code
number for each one, Fattahipour said.
About 50 percent of files are usually in the file bank, but 25 percent
are somewhere in the department's nine floors and two buildings. Another
25 percent are stored in an offsite facility maintained by a private company,
said Priscilla Barrett, legal support manager. When users request a file
through the system, she said they also have the choice of viewing an electronic
version if it has been digitized under an ongoing project started a year
If a hardcopy file is with somebody else, then the request is automatically
routed to a runner with a Hewlett-Packard Co. iPaq handheld device that
indicates the file number and person's name holding the particular file.
Most of the county department's 800 employees are assigned unique bar code
numbers, which is on the nameplate on their desk or office. When a runner
delivers a requested file, he would scan the requester's bar code number
and then the file's number, transmitting that information into the system.
If a file can't be released to a requester, then the runner checks a
box on the handheld canceling the request. Automatically, an e-mail notification
is sent to the requester, providing the name of the person holding the file.
The system has been operating for a month and is averaging about 300
requests daily, Fattahipour said, adding the department has had about 4,500
file requests in that time.
The primary concern in developing the wireless network was security,
Fattahipour said. "We have no security concerns," he said. "It never goes
down. The range is great. It's a strong signal."
Abdallah Elasaad, a supervising IT engineer, said the county built the
wireless local-area network physically separate from the department's network
for security reasons. Workers installed 24 Cisco Systems Inc. Aironet 1200
Series wireless access points, he said, adding that the signal was tweaked
so it stayed confined within the floors of the two buildings the department
Elasaad said the data is highly encrypted as it is funneled to the handheld
at a speed of 5 to 6 megabits/sec. IT staff members have different levels
of access rights to view, touch or modify the system. He said the system
was tested extensively for two to three months before going live.
Application development was done in-house using Macromedia Inc. Dreamweaver
MX. On the back end, the department used different technologies including
Macromedia ColdFusion MX, Microsoft Corp. SQL Server 2000, and Microsoft
Exchange 2000 and Windows 2000 Advanced Server. A Certicom Corp.-developed
movianVPN client was used to set up the secure virtual private network between
the access points and iPaqs.
Hardware and software costs were about $80,000, with a bulk of the money
used to purchase a dedicated HP ProLiant dual-processor server.
Several other San Diego County agencies, including the sheriff's department,
are inquiring about replicating the system, which would be easy to do, Fattahipour
said. His department also will demonstrate it for the county's chief administrative
officer next month, he said.