BY MICHAEL RYAN
When it comes to emergency 911 communications and dispatch of police and fire, smart cooperative consolidation can improve service and save a significant amount of taxpayer dollars.
The idea is not novel and is finally coming to Broward County.
The Lost Decade?
In 2002, a whopping 80 percent of the Broward County voters passed a referendum demanding consolidation of emergency 911 communications and dispatch services so closest fire-rescue unit will respond to serious emergencies, no matter what city name is on the outside of the rescue truck.
The voters understood what the rescuers always knew … minutes matter.
As a result, the Broward County charter was amended:
The County Commission with cooperation from Municipalities shall establish a countywide communications infrastructure for fire and emergency medical services. The County shall provide funding for the communications infrastructure and all service providers will utilize the elements of the communications infrastructure. The communications infrastructure shall facilitate closest unit response for life-threatening emergencies and support for regional specialty teams. (emphasis added)
A decade later, while work has been done to improve interoperability; we are not there … yet.
Cooperative Consolidation of CommunicationsIs desirable, feasible and will improve service
In October 2010, a lengthy and detailed feasibility study of the current communications system proved the obvious: with 13 different E-911 and dispatch centers in Broward County, consolidation into 3 centers would reduce the need for E-911 call transfers, improve safety for emergency responders, improve consistency of E-911 call handling and dispatch, and improve interoperability amongst participating agencies.
Most of the high volume E-911 calls and dispatch centers were not even rated beyond “category 2” for hurricanes. Imagine the consequences of that.
In the age of cell phones, some people do not use land-based home phones. Their E-911 calls for help from a child’s bedroom or a backyard will likely be from a cell phone. However, their cry for help may not even go to the E-911 center in their city. That routing problem creates more delay as the call must then be transferred to a different dispatch center.
Simply put, with consolidation of E-911 and dispatch communications, your police and fire-rescue personnel would get to you quicker, with fewer errors, and that is good!
The projected monetary savings for taxpayers county-wide is staggering, estimated to be over $100,000,000 over the next decade. Because it would need to be phased in and the employee attrition rate in communications is so high, consolidation is technically and logistically achievable without losing jobs.
The Professionals Know Cooperative Communications Consolidation Must Happen
The Broward County Chiefs of Police Association and the Fire Chiefs of Broward County Association recently examined the evidence, considered the current communications situation and passed resolutions stating that cooperative consolidation of 911 communications and dispatch
- is technically feasible, desirable and will improve service;
- will reduce delay in transfer of emergency calls;
- will result in faster emergency response times;
- will enhance interoperability and coordination amongst responding agencies; and
- will result in fewer errors due to standardized call handling and dispatch protocols;
Recognizing there are models of cooperative consolidation in our state and all around the country to draw upon, both the police and fire chiefs associations recommended an implementation team begin work towards consolidation.
This week, the Public Safety Committee of the Broward League of Cities also passed a resolution in support of cooperative consolidation and recommended an “Implementation Team” begin the work of building the model.
So what’s next?
County and Cities Must Move Forward With Deliberate Speed To Implement the Will of the Voters
Many believe the County and the Broward League of Cities must work together to construct a deliberative but expeditious plan for implementation. That plan must include a governance structure which provides accountability to and input from each participating agency. The command structure must be unified to provide consistent metrics, training, staffing and accountability. Funding must be equitable and fair.
There are those cities who may want to keep their own dispatch centers. Under the idea of “opt-in”, the prerogative of going it alone under “Home Rule” can be preserved so long as the communication systems can “talk” to each other. All residents and visitors, particularly in a transient urban setting, are entitled to the best public safety service possible. Over time, those who want to go it alone may wish to join.
The next step, as one of my colleagues stressed, is for us, the electeds, to leave our parochial interests at the door, roll-up our sleeves, and do what the voters expect of us – with our guidance and input, let the professionals in public safety come up with a smart and fair plan to improve public safety service, reduce errors, eliminate built-in delays in the system, and save a tremendous amount of taxpayer dollars overall.
With that type of refreshing philosophy, I, for one, think we can do it. If I am wrong, it will not be because this idea can not work. However, now is our time to see what can be done … together.
(Michael Ryan was elected mayor of Sunrise in March, 2010. A partner in the Fort Lauderdale-based law firm of Krupnick Campbell Malone, Ryan has long been interested in improving the delivery of fire services to the public.
He has been the PTA president at his children’s school and a coach in youth athletics. His is married to Shirlie and has two children, 12 and 10.)