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Columbia County Observer

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Columbia County 911Combined Communications The Law, Background, Facts (Part II)

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL –  On Thursday afternoon for 2 hours, the first of what may be many workshops concerning the Columbia County 911 Combined Communications Center and a power grab by Columbia County Sheriff Mark Hunter to take over the center, occurred. As the meeting got under way, the Sheriff walked back his well know desire to take over everything and said he was just interested in the Sheriff's dispatch.

The following background was taken from a document prepared by 911 Director Tom Brazil. He never had the chance to present most of his findings. Once the Sheriff came up to the microphone, he would not relinquish it and sit down. Both Director Brazil and Fire Chief Jeff Crawford were forced to share the lectern, being pushed off to the side.

Part II: The Law, Background, Facts

Statutory Authority for 911
FL Emergency Communications Number E911 State Plan Act

The passage of the Florida Emergency Communications Number E911 State Plan Act, section 365.171, Florida Statutes, mandated that the Department of Management Services (DMS) develop, implement and continually update a cohesive statewide plan for implementing the emergency communications number "E911". The statute requires public emergency communications agencies for each entity of local government in all Florida counties to comply with the State E911 Plan (Plan).

• Section 2.4 of Plan states: "The revenues derived from the E911 fee under section 365.172, Florida Statutes, are distributed monthly to all counties per section 365.173, Florida Statutes. The funds collected and interest earned are appropriated for E911 purposes by the county commissioners. The State E911 Plan establishes the Board of County Commissioners in each county as the responsible fiscal agent. Although E911 operations may be ceded to some other official or agency, ultimate responsibility and authority within a county rests with the Board of County Commissioners."
• Section 2.5 of Plan states: "The State E911 Plan requires the Board of County Commissioners to designate a knowledgeable individual as its county 911 coordinator. The position is established under the State E911 Plan to function as a single point of contact between the county's Board of County Commissioners and DMS regarding E911 fiscal, technical, operational and strategic planning issues. The county 911 coordinator must make critical infrastructure investment recommendations to the Board of County Commissioners. This individual must provide the expertise needed to ensure the county complies with all state and federal laws affecting E911 and carry out the directives of the county's Board of County Commissioners."

Implementing Countywide Standards
The County 911 Coordinator

The county 911 Coordinator must implement countywide standards that meet or exceed those directed in the State E911 Plan. This individual must coordinate E911 infrastructure related activities among all emergency service agencies and equipment and service providers to ensure that the system performs smoothly, reliably and efficiently in concert with statewide emergency communication objectives. The 911 Coordinator must ensure the maintenance and functionality of the county's E911 system, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, thereby protecting the county from potential exposure to liability that might result from critical infrastructure failure.

For these reasons, it is recommended that the County 911 Coordinator report directly to the county manager or assistant county manager. This level of responsibility would provide immediate and direct access to county decision makers to help ensure that complex technical, operational and other 911-related issues are effectively communicated.

Inadvertent miscommunication of critical details to decision makers, through a third party may adversely affect a County's ability to respond to emergency or disaster situations and/or comply with state and federal laws.

Independence

Currently the 911 Center is a BOCC function. None of the user agencies has any greater influence on Center operations than any other. The County has run the 911 Center with the philosophy of providing competent, equal, and professional services, to all user agencies of the 911 Center as well as to the public. We have a Steering Committee made up of user agencies to provide input and address issues as well as using a Quality Assurance Program to improve service delivery.

The County has invested considerable money in implementing and maintaining Emergency Fire and Emergency Medical (EMD/EFD) dispatch. Emergency Fire Dispatch (EFD) was a significant contributing factor in lowering the ISO fire insurance rating for Columbia County. EMS is a contracted service to the County by the BOCC with dispatching provided by the 911 Center.

Through the County's contract with Century, the County monitors call response times and has the ability to hold Century accountable if they cannot meet the requirements of the County. In addition, the EMD standards the 911 Communications Center use are established by the International Academy of Emergency Dispatch and used worldwide.

Information Technology

911 communications and dispatch is heavily dependent on IT infrastructure. Virtually everything associated with 911 and dispatch involves complex computer systems. The County has made considerable improvements to the system including: a virtualized 911 network, upgrading servers, switched and other computer hardware components, replaced all 911 call taking equipment, etc.

With a change in governance, the coordinated maintenance and upgrades to the equipment will be disrupted.

Stability
Sheriff Hunter Has Caused Morale to Suffer

The uncertainty of a possible governance change for the 911 Communications Center is having an adverse impact on employees.

5 years ago, 911 Communications Center employees wanted two things: stability and structure. These concerns have been addressed. The 911 Communications Center has comprehensive written policies, guidelines, established procedures and developed a pay for performance plan based on levels of certification.

The Sheriff has made it clear that he wants control of dispatch back under the Sheriff's Office. This ongoing tug-of-war is neither healthy nor beneficial to morale in the 911 Communications Center.

Complaints

If governance were transferred to the Sheriff's Office complaints from callers, other agencies, etc. would fall to the Sheriff's Office to investigate and resolve, not the BOCC. However, this would not relieve the BOCC of potential liability. The responsibility for 911 operation and call taking by statute falls to the Board of Commissioners.

Fire & EMS Concerns

There is a concern by Fire & EMS that with a change in governance they will take a back seat to law enforcement when it comes to dispatch.

The 911 Communications Center under the BOCC strives to provide equal and efficient service to all user agencies of the 911 Communications Center.

Emergency Fire Dispatch (EFD) was a significant contributing factor in lowering the ISO fire insurance rating for Columbia County. The County Fire Department has expressed concerns that with a change in governance the same commitment to EFD would be maintained.

EMS is a contracted service to the County by the BOCC with dispatching provided by the 911 Communications Center. With a change in governance how will EMS issues be addressed?

EMS including Emergency Medical Dispatch (EMD) procedures must be reviewed and approved by the County's Medical Director. With a change in governance, how will issues with EMD be resolved?

Emergency Management Concerns

Public Works and Emergency Management receive notifications of issues (road closures, trees down, fuel leaks, etc.) through 911 call takers.

Cost allocations between departments will need to be addressed to ensure no Emergency Management funds are being spent for other purposes to ensure compliance with the Emergency Management Grant.

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