ELFS keeps track of case files

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

were involved.

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

certain files.

"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.

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