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PHIRE Not Exactly Lighting Things Up

October 10, 2007

Huh? Last month we talked about a program for rapid messaging out of CDC called PHIRE. I was skeptical at the time, and remain so. In short, I think that it has no natural audience and unnecessarily duplicates already successful efforts. In preparedness and response situations duplication of messaging resources is a big no-no. That’s the idea behind a joint information center, or JIC – one stop shopping for the latest on the situation. Multiple messaging systems with different “speakers” can only serve to confuse the situation as different information comes out of each.

On a CDC blog that I recently came across (and promptly combed their archives for post ideas), it seems that the idea for PHIRE doesn’t seem to be something that some folks at CDC have bought into. Here’s the direct link, but since you guys aren’t the best “clickers” out there, I’ll pass along the juicy parts below.

The first thing that really scared me, which is echoed in the comments, is this:

PHIRE was conceived by a recently retired NCHM division director to be a “one stop shopping” resource for people to access information from CDC in times of public health emergency and would ultimately take the place of existing systems such as the Health Alert Network (HAN) and Clinician Outreach Updates (COCA).

Why would this take the place of those systems which have worked extremely well, I wonder. One of the commenters brought up the idea that Epi-X also does something similar – and does it well. What’s the purpose – and is there some movement to replace those older systems with PHIRE?

And, well, do we even want to do that:

My sources tell me that software that NCPHI [ed. note: National Center for Public Health Informatics] has developed is a sham and doesn’t work.
The software NCPHI has written can’t even send a message without messing up text and HTML formats. Plus, the part of PHIRE which is supposed to be a web-board-type two way communication area is an off the shelf product called Instant Forum and the development team tells my sources that they are unable to modify that software because they “didn’t write it.”
My sources say this is typical of the push-back from NCPHI any time they (NCHM) want to exert any control over the project.
So a million dollars+ of taxpayer dollars bought what? A non-functional email system and an off-the-shelf chat room?

Wait, what was that? A million dollars+? For a system with no easily defined audience or success metric, and duplicates not one or two, but three established reliable systems? Ladies and gentlemen, let me present preparedness funding run amok.

With all of this in mind, I’ll be taking PHIRE off of the Resources pages, and adding CDC Chatter to my Blogroll.

Photo credit: avorio

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Ranger permalink
    October 25, 2007 11:48 am

    Absolute rubbish! Do you even bother to check on the accuracy of the stuff you post? The number of inaccuracies in your “sources'” stories would do the National Enquirer proud.

  2. October 25, 2007 12:56 pm


    I do appreciate your reply – even if you’re unhappy with my post.

    Unfortunately, I haven’t “sourced” any of this. I’m not a journalist, I’m a blogger and post in my spare time. If I had the time to chase down every lead, I’m sure my boss (and wife!) would be none too happy.

    That said, this is one of my least substantive posts, so I’m amazed that this is the one drawing ire. I’m basically saying that this tool seemingly replicates other existing tools, which doesn’t seem to be an inaccuracy. I have yet to learn what differentiates PHIRE from Epi-X or HAN or COCA, and the PHIRE website makes no mention of that. I’m also passing along word from a blog run for CDC employees that some folks down there in Atlanta aren’t happy with the program. If you have a problem with what’s said there, please feel free to comment on that blog. The link is in my post.

    That said, I’d love to take the opportunity to discuss this subject with you. If you know something I don’t, or want to get the word out that PHIRE is the best thing since sliced bread, let me know and I’ll be happy to take the time to listen. If you can convince me I’m wrong, the first thing I’ll do is write a post expressing my change of heart.

    I never started blogging to complain about everything. If you’ll look through my archives, you’ll note that I’m a champion for new ways to use technology in disaster or emergency communications – and frankly, I’d love for this to become a key part of any response, if it’s necessary. As any good parent says, I’m upset because I love you guys. CDC does so many good things, but you lost me here.

    I’m emailing you this reply, Ranger, cause I don’t know if you’re just driving by, and I want to get more information.

    – Jimmy

  3. October 25, 2007 1:19 pm

    Just so everyone is apprised of what’s going on here, I tried to email Mr. Ranger, but he left me a non-functioning email address. I do hope that he comes back and emails me.

    Mr. Ranger: Please email me using the address on the right side of this page. Use a temporary yahoo address, make a pseudonym, whatever it takes. I do want to discuss this, but you’ve taken that choice out of my hands, so I leave it up to you.


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