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News : Head of Troubled Countywide 911 System Resigns
Broward County, FL, USA, Nov 6, 2015 -- The head of Broward County's beleagured new 911 dispatching system has resigned.
Rick Carpani, director of the county's Office of Communications Technology, will depart Nov. 13 for what he termed a "phenomenal'' but undisclosed job in the private sector. He vacates the top post after overseeing the system's rocky first year, and repeatedly complaining that it fell short of what taxpayers — and 911 callers — expect.
The system is operated by the Broward Sheriff's Office, whose performance Carpani panned. Every month of the system's existence, he sent the agency a failure notice.
Calls during the busiest hours are not always answered quickly enough, and call-takers are not as familiar with local geography as they should be, among other troubles. Police and firefighters have complained of insufficient information from dispatchers. And the radios used by first responders to communicate with dispatchers periodically fail.
Progress has been made, Carpani said, but not enough.
"I do believe we're all working toward a common goal. It's just taking longer than I had hoped,'' Carpani said. "I guess if there's anything that bothers me in terms of leaving early is I'm leaving a job that's not completely finished. But for the benefit of my family and my professional development I can't pass up what was put in front of me.''
In the wake of Carpani's resignation, the Broward Chiefs of Police Association asked top county administrators for a meeting to discuss concerns, chiefly about well-publicized radio failures and plans for a new radio system. All police chiefs in Broward would like to attend, according to a letter from Wilton Manors Chief Paul O'Connell to County Administrator Bertha Henry and one of her assistants, Alphonso Jefferson.
Fort Lauderdale City Manager Lee Feldman said, "We still believe the operation is not functioning as designed.'' He said the primary issue "relates to training.''
Broward's emergency dispatch system came online a little more than a year ago, and continues to suffer start-up pains.
Records through September show that complaints continue to come in, mostly about call-takers' inability to get the right address from callers who need help. For example, the 911-operators may not be familiar with local names for things, like "New River Bridge,'' and some addresses exist in four or five different Broward cities.
Carpani said everyone involved underestimated how hard it would be for 911 operators to handle their new territories.
"That was traumatic,'' he said. "It was a huge change for them being uprooted from a city-specific dispatch to a regional center.''
Before consolidation last year, frantic victims calling from cellphones might ping off the wrong cellular tower and ring into the wrong city's call center. Their calls had to be transferred from one 911 call center to another, as precious seconds and even minutes elapsed.
The system succeeded in cutting down on those call transfers, but they couldn't be eliminated entirely because two of the 31 cities — Coral Springs and Plantation — declined to join and still operate their own call centers.
Still, those involved say the system is moving in the right direction. Chester Bolton, Pompano Beach fire chief, praised Carpani and his accomplishments. He said Carpani shepherded a 10-year plan for replacing the radio system and other infrastructure. The county is working on a competitive bid for a new radio system now.
"I review things on a daily basis, and it's definitely trending to where there has been improvement,'' Bolton said.
Bob Pusins, executive director of the community services division at Broward Sheriff's Office, went round and round with Carpani in past months, complaining that Carpani set an impossible standard for answering calls during busy periods. In his arguments, he called Carpani's method an unachievable "junk science'' standard that made the agency look like it was constantly failing.
But he said he wished Carpani "nothing but the best in his endeavors.''
Pusins said that despite the non-compliance notices his agency received from Carpani's shop, 911 operators on the whole are doing a great job.
Pusins said mistakes made by operators are so few compared to the total calls that they are "statistically insignificant'' mathematically, ''unless you're the person that's calling and can't get through, or you're the firefighter or police officer that's having difficulty with information.''
Carpani said he's a "perfectionist'' who never reached a point where he felt satisfied with the new system's progress. But he said his expectations weren't unrealistic.
"I think a culture of continuous improvement is one we need to adopt,'' he said. "We should never be satisfied. We're talking about public safety, right? We should never be satisfied.''
Jefferson said the county hasn't "formalized our plans'' for replacing Carpani.
"We have a strong team in place,'' he said, "and we are very confident these individuals can continue our success.''
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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Published: Monday, November 9, 2015