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9Wants to Know exposes lengthy state webpage failure

7:53 PM, Feb 7, 2014   |    comments
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DENVER - Colorado parents want to know their children's daycare centers are safe, but that got a lot harder after a state website crash last fall.

9Wants to Know has learned the Child Care Facility Search function failed in September, and a state-contracted computer programming company couldn't fully fix it for four months.

The company, Colorado Interactive, has a contract worth $2.5 million per year to design and maintain, the statewide government internet portal. The Child Care Facility Search is one of 400 applications maintained by Colorado Interactive. Users can input their address into the search function, which locates child care providers in the neighborhood and links to their state inspection history.

"Recoding and rewriting the application is something that just takes time," said John Conley, executive director of the State Internet Portal Authority. SIPA oversees Colorado Interactive.

9Wants to Know dug deeper, learning the webpage was using an antiquated version of the Google Maps Application Programming Interface. Google had provided months of warning that the old version would stop functioning in September 2013. That's when the state webpage crashed. A Colorado Interactive manager admits his staff should have seen the crash coming.

"That was a hole in our process and that process has been fixed," promises Fred Sargeson.

Programmers were able to put the Child Care Facility Search back online in October, but then if failed again and remained offline until January 14. Sargeson blames complications in linking the new version of Google Maps with the state's existing child care facility database.

"We just worked on it as quickly as we could to get the service up and running as fast as possible," he said.

While the Child Care Facility Search function was being reprogrammed, an estimated 15,000 people tried to access the information and received error messages. Erin Solis says she checked every day for more than a week when she was trying to find a safe, new daycare for her son, Ryder.

"The first time I went on it, it just said the website was down," said Solis. "So I went to another page which brought me back to the same original page that said it was under construction. It's frustrating."

Solis even called the Department of Human Services, which licenses and inspects child care facilities. She says it took four days to receive the child care facility licensing report through that method.

"I did have to wait for a week of him being there to actually get the license information and know the state had gone in there and done the check and all that stuff," said Solis.

9Wants to Know obtained emails showing the state's child care licensing employees made at least three requests to Colorado Interactive to repair the website. One email said state employees were "getting an increasing number of calls frustrated with this 'government' web site not functioning," and they were "overwhelmed with the public file requests." While the website was down they had "no ability to map facilities during an emergency," like a flood or wildfire evacuation.

Colorado Interactive's website contract expires in May. SIPA's Board of Directors is currently negotiating a new contract with the company, and board members say the contract will include additional requirements for communication and accountability.

(KUSA-TV © 2014 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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