Consultant: Broward 911 system not as bad as people think

Broward’s 911 emergency dispatch system provides pretty good service. It’s the management and technology that needs fixing, says a consultant’s in-depth examination of Broward County‘s fledgling regional dispatch system.

“The system is performing better than what the perception was out there,” said Alphonso Jefferson, assistant county administrator. “There’s some opportunities for improvement.”

The county’s system has been dogged by complaints, mistakes and bad publicity in its two-year existence. But Missouri-based Fitch Associates said compared to other large, urban 911 systems, it’s not that bad.

When it comes to answering 911 calls, the report says, “the Broward system actually exhibits some of the best performance seen in large 911 centers across the nation.”

The report has been eagerly awaited by cities like Pembroke Pines and Fort Lauderdale, who’ve threatened to pull out of the countywide system. In addition, the Broward Sheriff’s Office, which runs the county system, had hoped it would justify their request for more money to hire more staff. But the report doesn’t do that.

The challenge going forward, the report says, “will be defining a clear set of expectations shared by all.”

Beleaguered 911 operators beg for better training, tools, treatment

Beleaguered 911 operators beg for better training, tools, treatment

The work of Broward County’s 911 operators is as serious as a heart attack, a missing child or gunfire at a school.

They hold lives in their hands. But by county officials’ measurements, their performance isn’t good enough.

The failures of Broward’s 29-city system, one of the largest 911 emergency…

The work of Broward County‘s 911 operators is as serious as a heart attack, a missing child or gunfire at a school.

They hold lives in their hands. But by county officials’ measurements, their performance isn’t good enough.

The failures of Broward’s 29-city system, one of the largest 911 emergency…

(Brittany Wallman and Linda Trischitta)

A second report will come in the next three months, said consultant Bruce Moeller, a former Sunrise fire chief and city manager who now works as a Fitch Associates consultant. It will spell out how solutions to the problems can be rolled out.

According to the report:

• The dispatch system needs simpler management. Right now, it’s operated by the sheriff’s office, but is under the county’s control. Participating city fire and police chiefs weigh in. And, the report noted, “low levels of trust exist” among the three factions, with most people blaming the county for it. “One of the major concerns shared by all stakeholders is the state of relations among the various parties,” the report says. The report also faults the county for getting too involved in operation of the system. Moeller said the system was put into place on an aggressive timeline, and the county filled the leadership “vacuum.” Now it’s time to give police and fire officials a more central role, he said.

• The system is doing one of the two things it was supposed to do: reducing the number of calls that had to be transferred to a different 911 center. With the vast majority of the 1.5 million callers a year using cell phones, at times the signal would ping off a tower in the wrong city in Broward’s jigsaw of 31 municipalities. Precious moments — 30 seconds on average — were wasted on transfers. That’s been greatly reduced but still occurs occasionally because Coral Springs and Plantation didn’t join. The second goal of the system, to allow the closest emergency response vehicle to head to a life-threatening emergency, hasn’t been implemented. Moeller’s next report will spell out how to move forward with it.

• Employees who responded to Fitch’s survey said they were providing a good level of service but are receiving inadequate training, aren’t prepared to handle a hurricane or mass shooting, are not helped by technology, don’t have easily understood or applied policies and procedures, don’t feel supported by upper management and don’t feel equipment complaints are handled appropriately. The BSO operation has “significant morale problems,” the report says.

• The system is hampered by aging technology. But that was no secret. County commissioners at a budget workshop last week informally agreed to commit $50.7 million in the 2016-17 budget for improvements to the system. Coming in 2017 is a new computer-aided dispatch system. And in 2018, the radio system used by dispatchers to communicate with police and fire personnel will be replaced.

• The system has enough staff to succeed, Moeller said. In some areas, it’s overstaffed. Starting in September, 911 calls that can’t be answered at one of the three call centers will roll over to another, possibly reducing the number of staff needed. Sheriff Scott Israel in May asked for a $6.2 million increase to $45.4 million, or 16 percent more, to operate the system. Most would be spent hiring 29 more employees, bringing the total to 476. The request was put on hold pending the Fitch report results. The report doesn’t support BSO’s request for more staff.

• Standards for answering phone calls and processing calls are higher than for similarly sized 911 centers, Fitch found, and aren’t necessarily worth fixating on or spending more money to achieve. The system already is nationally accredited. And the system is barely missing the goals. Quality of the service might be improved by the use of scripts for fire and law enforcement calls. Currently scripts used by 911 operators, providing instructions to callers, are only used for medical calls, Moeller said.

Jefferson said he doesn’t agree with all of the findings but said the county should be credited with hiring Fitch and cooperating to improve the system.

“We want a better system. That’s what we want,” Jefferson said. “We think we’re getting there, based on the numbers. We’re performing at a high level. But there’s some changes, and we’re open to those particular changes.”

The county paid $100,000 for the report.

Any member of the public who has a 911 dispatch complaint, or praise, can now lodge the comment online, Broward Commissioner Lois Wexler announced last week. Go to The report also can be viewed there.


Fitch Associates findings after studying Broward County emergency 911 dispatch:

1. Broward Sheriff’s Office is an Accredited Center of Excellence as awarded by the International Academies of Emergency Dispatch.

2. Low levels of trust exist among major stakeholders. Much of this is due to role definitions. Relationships need to be redefined in order for the system to move forward effectively.

3. County’s PSAP (Public Safety Answer Point) phone system and computer aided dispatch systems are not effectively linked to allow comprehensive evaluation of system performance.

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