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Broward County Starts To Roll Out 'Closest Unit Response' When Residents Call 911

Broward 911
Caitie Switalski
Broward County Administrator Bertha Henry, left, and director of regional public safety and emergency services Tracy Jackson, right, answer questions about Broward County's last new 911 radio tower on Aug.14, 2019.

When people call 911 for an emergency in Broward County, the closest ambulance or fire truck isn't always the one they get.


That's changing. 


This week the county started to roll out an initiative, called "Closest Unit Response," to track the vehicle closest to the emergency, and send it no matter what municipality the emergency may be in. 


"If someone calls and they're near a municipal boundary, they really don't care which municipality, which fire department responds - they just want the quickest response possible," Broward County Commissioner Michael Udine said. 


Voters in Broward approved the initiative back in 2002, according to county records, and the county has been investing in the infrastructure to make it happen after the regional system was created.  


The initiative is currently in its Phase I, and after the first six cities are on board, the county plans to add more. It's possible because of the county's new Computer-Aided Dispatch (or CAD) system. 


The first two cities to use Closest Unit Response are Sunrise and Lauderhill. Four other cities will join in the next several weeks: Fort Lauderdale, Oakland Park, North Lauderdale, and Taramarc.  


WLRN spoke with the Director of Regional Emergency Services and Communications for Broward County, Tracy Jackson, after the initiative launch on Tuesday. 


The following interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

JACKSON: The idea is something that probably everybody thinks happens already because you have an emergency, you just want help, you really don't care what patch that person is wearing. 

So picture being in your favorite city here in Broward County and right across the street, you just happen to be adjacent to another city - and right across the street from use a fire station. Well, if your kid gets hurt, you expect that station right across the street to show up and help you out. That doesn't happen without Closest Unit Response because municipalities have boundaries. 

Our system is helping to erase those boundaries. So for high-priority calls--chest pain, heart attack, difficulty breathing, those types of things--there will be no boundary between that person and the closest capable unit. 

WLRN: How does this relate to the problems that the county has had upgrading the radio system in a timely manner? When they call a city, does this interact with the radio system at all? 

Every emergency starts, as we know, with a phone call. First responders are dispatched by computer, but they're communicated by radio. So the dispatcher is actually in touch--radio communication with a unit as they're responding when they get there.

So the radio system functions independently of these things, but it is very interdependent when we talk about linking all these pieces together to have an efficient public safety system. 

Where are we with the radio system?

We are furiously building our 15th site, which will be our final site in West Hollywood. We expect that that site is going to be coming up and being online. Motorola is telling us that there's been some slippage in a date. So it looks like we're going to have the end of April completion on the site. After that, we do some testing. We do what we call a 'burn in.' And then we're going to begin the migration process. 

We anticipate migrating the first wave of public safety users in early summer.

Read More: 'This Is A Very Unique System We're Operating': Tracy Jackson Leads Revamp Of Broward's 911 System

When it comes to municipalities that are not a part of the county regional 9-1-1 system like Plantation, for example. How do they participate in Closest Unit Response--or do they? 

Closest Unit Response is limited only by participation in a regional system. So Plantation and Coral Springs right now would not be able to.

What's next with Closest Unit Response? This is phase one. You have six municipalities participating. What comes next in the process? 

We're already in discussions, and have been for over a year, with every municipality in Broward. We anticipate phase two rolling out with the next five or six cities a little bit later this summer. Our goal in between the rollout is to learn, see the system functioning, see how it exists in the wild. Find out what tweaks we can do to get it more optimal. And also feedback from a user community. What works well, what doesn't work well, what problems are they having? So that end result will be a flawless functioning system.

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Caitie Muñoz, formerly Switalski, leads the WLRN Newsroom as Director of Daily News & Original Live Programming. Previously she reported on news and stories concerning quality of life in Broward County and its municipalities for WLRN News.
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