The State of Florida recently enacted legislation that has considerable implications for public safety agencies. The law was introduced after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, an organization formed to analyze the 2018 events of the Parkland, Florida, high school shooting, highlighted several opportunities to improve public safety communications within the state.
Originally introduced as Senate Bill 536 and later amended to House Bill 441, the legislation requires that Florida public safety agencies comply with the following requirements:
- Requirement 1: Text-to-911 service must be implemented countywide in all 67 Florida counties, by January 1, 2022, with a plan developed by January 2020.
- Requirement 2: The Department of Management Services (DMS) must develop and implement a state-level plan for telecommunicators to be able to transfer, and receive transfers, of calls from other systems in the state, under certain circumstances, by February 1, 2020.
- Requirement 3: Emergency response agencies must develop and executive an agreement that allows each public safety answering point (PSAP) to direct radio communications to neighboring jurisdictions by January 1, 2020, without having to transfer a call or relay information. Furthermore, sheriff’s offices must establish written agreements defining the circumstances and related protocols surrounding when, and how, nearby PSAPs would communicate directly with emergency responders via the radio system used for dispatch.
An Unfunded Mandate, An Aggressive Timeline
While we’re encouraged that the new law will improve emergency response capabilities in Florida, and hopefully inspire other states to consider implementing similar requirements, there is concern among Florida public safety agencies about where, and how to begin, implementation efforts. First, the timeline is aggressive, with some requirements beginning as early as January 2020. Second, the mandate is unfunded—many agencies will need to make technological and operational investments without access to additional funding.
During a recent forum we held with Florida clients, about half of them reported that the text-to-911 requirement was the most challenging for their agency, with the other half being split among the other two requirements. Some other notable feedback from our Florida clients:
- When asked how confident they were that their agency will be able to meet the text-to-911 requirements by 2020, only half stated that they were certain their agency would be able to comply.
- When asked how confident they were that their agency will be able to meet the radio communications requirements, 40 percent stated that they were fully confident, while 60 percent stated that they were less certain.
These requirements have broad implications for agencies, touching upon the areas of policy, technology, operations, training, funding and more. From our interactions with agencies across the state since HB-536 was envisioned about how best to comply with the new law, agencies reported that they are struggling the most with making progress meeting the operational requirements of the law, more than with funding and staffing.
Where to Go from Here? Five Focus Areas
To be effective in their efforts to comply with the legislation, Florida agencies must build a framework with neighboring agencies, built upon common language and a consensus-driven strategy, regarding how progress can be measured moving forward. Many different players will need to be involved—and they all must be included early on in the planning process to avoid long-term roadblocks.
Focus Area 1: Before building a strategy, agencies should conduct an analysis of the current state versus the future state for all three requirements.
During this exercise, agencies should determine where gaps exist, build an action plan for overcoming them and then implement, track and report on progress with all stakeholders on a frequent basis.
Focus Area 2: Because the sharing of resources is required under this legislation, specifically as it relates to the sharing of radio resources, agencies should determine whether agreements are already in place for sharing system access with interoperability partners. If language exists today, does it align? If not, new agreements will need to be drafted.
Focus Area 3: We recommend completing a survey of all agencies from which 911 calls are received, either because they’re dispatched from secondary PSAPs or because they’re wireless calls from neighboring jurisdictions. From there, determine the agencies, as a baseline requirement, with which radio communications need to be established. Then document the dispatch channels and perform a gap analysis based on where the agency is today and what’s required to comply with the law.
Focus Area 4: Define the types of emergencies that would necessitate radio communications between agencies. Examples might include after life threatening incidents such as an active assailant, large area mass-casualty events, to a commercial airliner crash situation. This list will vary based on the county’s unique makeup, and a protocol with script will need to be developed regarding how to handle every incident.
Focus Area 5: Last but not least, we cannot overemphasize the importance of conducting ongoing and comprehensive training for all entities involved and the importance of effective and regular communications. Florida public safety agencies that establish a plan, keep their stakeholders informed, and stay focused will have the greatest likelihood of meeting the new law’s requirements within the aggressive timeline, and ultimately, will improve emergency response outcomes for their communities.
Listen to our webinar, How to Prepare for Florida’s New Public Safety Communications Legislation, by requesting access here. Or, contact me if you’d like to discuss the legislation, and how Mission Critical Partners can help, in greater detail.