Cities Prove 911 Improvements Are Possible






In 2011, I wrote about the need to consolidate emergency 911 operations.  Two years later, after a lot of work by many, a majority of the County Commission agreed to a plan overwhelmingly endorsed by municipalities.

Why was the effort of so many important?

In 2002, a whopping 80 percent of Broward County voters passed a referendum demanding consolidation of emergency 911 communications and dispatch services. Voters wanted the closest fire-rescue units to respond in serious emergencies.


 Send Help No Matter The Seal on the Truck


The voters understood what the rescuers always knew … minutes, and sometimes seconds, matter.

As a result of the 2002 vote, 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 much work has been done to improve rescue interoperability, we have not completely reached the “closest unit response” ideal … yet.

For the past year, some municipalities have been quietly moving forward with a cooperative and collaborative plan to send the closest medical rescuers when you cry out for help.


Pilot Program Proves Municipalities Can Send Closest Rescue Units


A study commissioned by the County over a decade ago highlighted the terrifying problem of having fire stations close enough to provide help, but unable to respond because they were across a municipal border.  With interoperability improvements, some municipalities have solved that problem to make a difference in an emergency

In Sunrise, we started with Davie to provide mutual “closest unit automatic aid” for medical emergencies in western Davie and Sunrise.  Then, Sunrise, Lauderhill, Tamarac and North Lauderdale worked out an agreement.  What does “closest unit automatic aid” mean?

There is “closest unit mutual aid”  – where depending on the emergency, supervisors from different jurisdiction will communicate amongst themselves to see if it is possible to send a unit from a different jurisdiction.  All jurisdictions have such mutual aid agreements.  That is good.  But, there is better.

“Closest unit automatic aid” means the computer and dispatchers “see” where the rescue units are located in the different jurisdictions and automatically suggest which unit is closest for the emergency, even if that unit is from another jurisdiction.

This makes a difference in everyday emergencies and particularly when one jurisdiction is strained by the demand of multiple emergencies.

To be sure, there are complex issues to solve.  For municipalities, there must be a healthy respect for balance of resources; over time, no municipality should unreasonably be expected to be a “donor” municipality, particularly when a neighboring municipality may not provide sufficient, or may even reduce, resources.

However, Sunrise, Lauderhill, Tamarac, North Lauderdale and Davie have proven the value of hard work and open communication to solve challenges.  Why?  Because minutes matter.


The Results: Data and Real Stories


The yearlong effort proves the technology and will exists.  When left to the medical rescue professionals, the complex issues presented by “closest unit automatic aid” can be resolved.  The result: unequivocal improvements in response times.

But, those are numbers and data points.  Does it make a real difference?  According to the medical rescue professionals, yes.

The real stories are compelling.

For instance, when the first rescue unit on scene is from another jurisdiction; when the medical rescue teams seamlessly work together in a high intensity serious life-threatening event; when the rescue unit who can actually transport the patient is from another jurisdiction.

This happens multiple times, every day.

The anecdotal reports from rescue personnel more colorfully explain why this works.

One rescuer reported he didn’t even realize the responding unit providing assistance was from another city until he closed the doors on the transport set to race the patient to the hospital.  At that moment, he saw the seal from the neighboring municipality.

While on scene, the intensity of the medical emergency and the teamwork were more important than the patch on the uniform, to both the medical personnel and certainly to those in need of emergency help.

Municipalities have proven they can work together  to solve issues while maintaining the due respect for their respective resource demands.  We have also proven we can make substantial improvements to public safety when we work together.

“Closest unit automatic aid” and our cooperation will save lives.  Let’s move forward to make a difference over the coming year.

11 Responses to “Cities Prove 911 Improvements Are Possible”

  1. Frankie says:

    The county commission has done nothing for years while perhaps people have died. Shame on them.

  2. Abolish the BOCC says:

    The BOCC is corrupt and only cares about money.

  3. Boss Hogg says:

    Abolish at least half the police/EMS and solve the problem of communications. The only police/ EMS should be Fort Lauderdale, Hollywood, Pembroke Pines, Sunrise and BSO. The rest should be dissolved.

  4. Commissioner Angelo Castillo says:


    Regional consolidation of E-911 service took decades longer to get done than should have been the case.

    In fairness, for most of those years it was the cities not the county that refused to cooperate. The county takes a lot of shots but very often we cities are no bargain either. Perhaps one day we will have a group at the county and cities that can do business together not based on history and petty nonsense but on the higher plane of of what the people need.

    The decision to consolidate has now been made and at long last all benefit from doing something we all share in common better, more intelligently, in a more coordinated way than any of us could have done individually.

    It’s smart business.

    Response times will be faster, the service will be better, it will be safer and more reliable for police and fire rescue, and the cost will be significantly reduced to the taxpayer. It was a huge step forward and hopefully the memory of it will last long enough to give light to many new ventures that county and cities should do together.

    We are a young community Broward County, bearly 100 years old. That’s toddler stage compared to other places. At 14 or so largest county in America we’re a big toddler, to be sure. But we’re still pioneers here, just beginning to appreciate who we are and where we’re going. There’s a lot of work to be done, we’re ahead in some respects and behind in others.

    County and cities working together is not a suggestion it is a necessity and an expectation. It is required for the good of the community. Let’s get used to it and let’s continue to get it right.



    Plantation and Coral Springs continue to refuse to cooperate. Ridiculous.

  5. Mike Ryan says:

    The County and municipal efforts, as mandated by the voters in 2002, to improve structural and radio interoperability should be commended. A lot of work by many people in both the County and the municipalities was necessary to arrive at this point.

    The consolidation of E911 should also be commended as a joint municipality-county effort, albeit long in coming.

    The municipalities are now demonstrating these collective efforts have a real impact on public safety. The municipalities will and must necessarily lead the next stage of developing a true “closest unit automatic aid” response plan.

  6. Sam The Sham says:

    Doesn’t Plantation have a volunteer Fire Dept? How do you work with that? How do you make volunteers respond outside their city?

    Isn’t Lauderdale by the Sea FD volunteer? Don’t they have an independent company providing their emergency services?

    Deerfield has a fire station in Pompano. That means Deerfield will be paying for that station’s calls mostly from outside their city?

    You have several different standards in the county. Many cities do not want to be dictated to concerning their different standards and possible uniformity forced on them nor do they want to pay for other people’s services. How are these issues being addressed?


    It is as simple as this:

    The public voted to consolidate emergency communications. Plantation and Coral Springs commissioners are defying the public.

    To your other point, Sam, maybe it is time to reconsider a volunteer fire department in heavily urban cities like Coral Springs and Plantation. Do you want to wait in a burning 10th floor apartment in Coral Springs or Plantation for volunteers to respond when every second means the different between life and death?

  7. Chaz Stevens, Festivus says:


    Your comment about the 10th story problem is spurious.

    Shame shame.

    If there are issues with the Plantation model, how come we never read about them.

    I’m no expert, but I’d think the more meaningful metric is the x minute call response. You know, get there to administer CPR.

    I don’t recall reading anything about Plantation residents dying more than Corak Springs.


    You don’t hear about people dying in fires down here very often, thank God. This isn’t New York or Philadelphia, where old buildings make for tough, dangerous fires.

    I covered a city commission in the 1970s when a raise for fire fighters was being considered. A retired fire fighter from Boston stood up to argue amazingly against the raise. “I fought more fires every day before lunch than you guys do in a month,” the retiree said.

    The county was much less urban back then.

    Having professional fire fighters is like having insurance. You hope you never have to use it. If you do need to use it, you want the best and the fastest. I can’t imagine that Coral Springs and Plantation volunteers are as fast to respond as fire fighters who are manning a station full time.

    Is it a problem? Who knows? Could fires have been put out earlier if full-time fire fighters responded to them? I just don’t know. I’ve got a gut feeling that 29 Broward cities out of 31 and most of urban America can’t be wrong to choose professional fire fighters rather than volunteers.

  8. Chaz Stevens, Festivus says:

    You know Buddy, as a veteran reporter, you seemed to ignore the golden rule of, “Ask the question.”

    Hell, even I know that.

    You make these claims (Cadillac insurance, burning building, pussy cats lodged up in trees), yet aren’t doing the leg work to see if there’s merit to your assertions.

    “Is it a problem? Who knows,” you say.

    Shit, with that level of journalism, you need to come write for my blog — as we both know, the standards on MAOS aren’t quite the same as they SHOULD be here.


    Response times are very controversial and there is not even universal agreement on how they are measured. Of course, they are self reported so you can judge how suspect they are.

    The issue was studied to death by the cities and county. The recommendation they came up with is a standardized, cooperative 911 system. Plantation and Coral Springs chose not to participate for now.

    Most of the literature says that it takes longer to get volunteers to the scene, although they may respond with more personnel.

    Here is one key:

    The Centers for Disease Control states that “approximately 800,000 firefighters in the United States are volunteer firefighters and 300,000 are career firefighters. Volunteer firefighters primarily serve communities with fewer than 25,000 inhabitants, whereas most career firefighters serve communities of more than 25,000 persons.”

    FEMA statistics state that 95 percent of volunteer fire fighters protect populations of 25,000 or less.

    It would seem from that statement that Plantation and Coral Springs are out of step.

    Volunteers have one big advantage over professional fire fighters. They cost much less. Professional fire fighters, with their expansive work rules and salaries, are among the highest paid government employees in Broward.

    And no, I’m not going to do an extensive investigation of response times or volunteer versus professional fire fighters. I got paid to do such work at the Sun-Sentinel and other papers. No one is paying me now to spend hours researching such matters.

  9. Sam The Sham says:

    I don’t think that Coral Springs and Plantation are exclusively volunteer. I think they have a backbone of paid men but the majority of the firefighters (still want to say firemen) are volunteers. We need someone to fill us in on those facts.

    But the true issue here is Home Rule. The cities of Plantation and Coral Springs are quite happy with their present set up. They don’t want other cities or the county telling them what to do. They have weighed the pros and cons and have chosen the volunteers and don’t want to revamp a system that is not broken with a very expensive paid department.

  10. Real Deal says:

    Measurements standard were recommended by the I-Board and adopted by the county. 90% of 911 calls are to be answered within 10 seconds and 90% of all calls must be processed within 90 seconds. The achievement of those two standards would vastly improve response times throughout Broward.

  11. tell the truth says:

    Plantation and Coral Springs continue to refuse to cooperate. Ridiculous.

    Does the cities, or state charter have any say over these two broward municipalities defying the voter mandate?

    Hard to believe the PR of ignoring health safety and welfare is trumped by the decision of those electeds and the city mgr

    Thank you Mayor Ryan for your efforts