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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – A pioneering program at the University of Tennessee Knoxville is combating computer problems by offering troubleshooter training to members of every department in the school.

The Information Technology First Responder Program, developed by UT-Knoxville’s Division of Information Infrastructure, trains individual staff members to assess and fix problems of other computer users in their offices without having to call DII technicians, said Wes Woodle, who heads the program.

On Friday Chancellor Bill Snyder will give 47 employees certificates for completing the First Responder course. Some 100 of UT’s 400 separate units have staff members involved in the program.

First Responder is being used as a model by other universities, Woodle said. The concept is called distributed support, and Woodle said he knows of no other organization that has used it to this extent.

The program provides equipment and links that allow the First Responder to solve many problems without calling DII technicians. For complicated problems, the First Responder can consult a DII Web site and call for more complex repairs.

The advantages of the approach include quicker response time for clients with problems and a reduction in expense and down time, Woodle says. It also gives UT employees an opportunity to enhance their skills.

“DII has 15 people trying to deal with 12,000 network nodes, including desktop computers and printers,” Woodle said. “The First Responder can be the front line of defense and stretch our resources farther.”

First Responders are expected to take the first wave of any Y2K problems experienced in UT-Knoxville offices, though the university has taken appropriate steps to control that problem, Woodle said.

The program is geared toward full-time employees, Woodle said. Some training can be completed on a home computer. The coursework can be completed in a month or stretched out over several months, depending on the needs of the employee.

The program is free to the individual and free to the department. Some of the training is provided through a contract with Computer Learning Center of Knoxville.

“It’s great tech training at no expense to the departments,” Woodle said.