Central 911 call center could save money

OKEECHOBEE — Combining city and county 911 operators at one location could save money according to information reviewed at the Thursday meeting of the Okeechobee County Board of Commissioners.

The systems at the county and city facilities both need to be updated, because the equipment is running on the Windows XP computer operating system, which is no longer supported by Microsoft.

In addition, all of the equipment is at least 6 years old, and the state recommendation is to replace the equipment every 5 years.

According to the staff report, in 2014 the Florida E-911 coordinator did an inspection of the county E-911 facilities located at the Public Safety Complex and at the Okeechobee City Police Department (OCPD). During the visit, deficiencies were found and cost justification of the present system was a concern.

Okeechobee County contracted with TGundlach Resource Agency, LLC to look at the present E-911 system and make recommendations and provide direction in order to meet future national and state guidelines.
At the Thursday meeting Tim Gundlach discussed his findings.

He said the county receives approximately $145,000 annually from 911 fees collected from telephone service providers and distributed by the State of Florida. This funding is used for both the county and city 911 equipment. All other funding to support costs relating to keep the 911 system operational comes from special disbursements, rural or state 911 grants and local tax revenue.

According to the report, Okeechobee County and the City of Okeechobee handle and process approximately 22,700 emergency 911 calls annually.

Approximately 95 percent of all calls are handled by the Sheriff’s office PSAP (Public Safety Answering Point) while 5 percent are handled by the Okeechobee City Police Department PSAP. The Sheriff’s office answers all wireless calls to 911.

The Sheriff’s office PSAP also dispatches all non-city law, fire and EMS (Emergency Medical Services) agencies utilizing four full-time combined 911 call taking and dispatch positions. The Sheriff’s office PSAP is equipped for eight full-time positions, should an increase in staff be required for major incident response. A full-time staff of 17 certified call-taking and dispatch trained employees are employed working 12-hour shifts.

The Okeechobee City Police Department PSAP answers all incorporated city-based wire line 911 calls and provides dispatching for the OCPD Law and City Fire Agency. The OCPD PSAP is equipped with two fully functional 911 and dispatch positions as well as two non-activated positions. The OCPD PSAP is normally staffed with one full-time certified call-taking and dispatch staff member with a total of four full-time trained staff members to cover all shifts. In the event of increased traffic load, the PSAP has the ability to deploy a second call taker/dispatch staff to assist.

The redundant number of available stations is required at each call center by the state.

Mr. Gundlach said combining city and county 911 call takers/dispatchers in one location would mean a significant savings in equipment and equipment maintenance costs.

He noted that combining the systems could also reduce the time for EMS response in city limits. Currently EMS dispatching is done by the county. There is potential time lost in the event an OCPD incident requires medical dispatch.

Deputy Chief of Public Safety Karl Holtkamp said with the current system the average cost of the equipment and equipment maintenance for the 911 system averages about $13 a call, dividing the equipment and maintenance costs by the total number of calls received over 5 years. He said with a combined system, this would drop to about $8 a call.

He said this does not include the cost of staff.

For just the two 911 lines at the City Police Department, dividing the equipment and equipment maintenance costs for those lines, by the number of 911 calls the OCP receives in 5 years, it comes out to about $90 per call.

Part of the funds for the 911 system come from the state from service fees charged to telephone providers. On the average, this fee only covers part of the expense of the 911 equipment and equipment maintenance.

Mr. Holtkamp said the average annual cost for equipment for the 911 system is $206,000 and they have been receiving an average of $145,000 in 911 revenue, leaving a deficit of $61,000 which has to be paid from local funds.

This does not include personnel costs, which are paid by the city and county.

It also does not cover the cost of the recording equipment.

The Board of County Commissioners approved submission of an E911 Rural County Grant request to State of Florida E911 Board for Upgrade, Maintenance, and Redundancy of E911 PSAP Equipment at the Public Safety Complex from Centurylink in the amount of $323,700.45.

In other business at their Thursday meeting, commissioners approved a cooperative grant application program between Okeechobee County Fire Rescue and the City of Okeechobee Fire Department to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for a combination Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm installation program and approved submission of the grant application for the FY 15/16 Fire Prevention and Safety Grant Program in the amount of $74,000.

Editor Katrina Elsken can be reached at kelsken@newszap.com

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