Spotsylvania News

Jeff Branscome writes about Spotsylvania County.

RSS feed of this blog

Supervisor Pitts wants consultant to review emergency communications

Supervisor Benjamin Pitts asked county staff to hire a consultant to tell them what, if any, improvements that need to be made to the emergency communications center. He asked that a request for $466,000 to enhance the current system be delayed until the consultant completes the review.

Pitts referenced this article and said he was concerned that Stafford’s system cannot connect with the county’s system.

Pitts said he emailed County Administrator Doug Barnes on Sept. 7 expressing his disappointment. He also cited the county’s internal review of a Feb. 5 fatal fire that said numerous times that the Computer Aided Dispatch system was very slow at times.

Barnes said the county has $50,000 in carryover funds to hire a consultant.

“I have not seen a report from the sheriff that our present emergency communications needs any upgrades,” Pitts said. “I think we would be on the wrong track if we spend this half million dollars before this board hires an outside consultant to tell us what we really need.”

In interviews with Sheriff Howard Smith, he has said that there are no serious emergency problems with the CAD system. He said if the CAD is slow, dispatchers can use pen and paper to write down important information, which is what they used to do.

Pitts said he spoke with the sheriff and got the “impression” that the money did not need to be spent immediately.

Supervisors unanimously approved Pitts’ motion for the EOC review.


  • MD

    Spotsylvania County EOC has got to be one of the worse communication centers. They are under-staffed, old junk equipment/ computers/ CAD etc. The dispatchers do not always follow policy and procedures regarding the handling of emergency units and directions. The dispatchers do not have extensive training in the ICS system for both police and fire/ems incidents. The system needs an entire makeover to include a new dispatch center (which is coming) new computers, consoles, new training. Just listen to the Feburary 5th fatal fire, the after action review item recommendations and see for yourself. The dispatcher failed to follow policy and procedures to help the incident commander mark his benchmarks. Good job to Supervisor Pitts for seeing this dysfunctional part of the emergency system is Spotsylvania is not overlooked and ignored.

  • LarryG

    what I heard and I may be mistaken was that we were going to do upgrades , expensive upgrades and that when done we would still not have an interoperable system.

    If that is the case – then I need to understand why the folks in charge do not think interoperability is a critical function that we need to have.

    This may be a case where the folks actually doing the work are not good judges of the value and importance of interoperable communications.

    One of the biggest failures of Katrina and many other regional incidents has been the failure of the various first responders to communicate – and more importantly to coordinate.

    I applaud Mr. Pitts efforts and urge those who would proceed without an interoperable system to reconsider.

  • Martin (Marty) Work

    Where does “what I heard and I may be mistaken was that we were going to do upgrades…” going to take us?

    Who’s calling the ball? Supv Pitts or another consulting firm with billable hours for every page transcribed, to tell us what we already know but needs another stamp of approval and necessary delays on how to best improve a system that’s broken from the inside and out.

    If the upgrades don’t include everyone in a single accessible communication system, why bother with upgraded half measures?

    Sounds like another story where we bought cheap and got exactly that: cheap. Who’s in charge at the local elected official level? Why is it that the BOS can’t make a decision unless it is made for them? Why has this particular business matter been thrown into the public trough, with only “impressions” and short on a lot of details?

  • LarryG

    I don’t know about buying cheap but one of the most important things in emergency services is interoperability within jurisdictional agencies and external to them – regionally and beyond the region even.

    Katrina proved what a failure a lack of interoperability and every time we have a regional incident, we need that capability and we certainly need it or adjacent localities.

    This is not just a governance issue – it goes to how staff interprets it’s mission and the BOS can not be micro-managing every single staff function.

    I’m just surprised that interoperability is not a priority with LE and other Emergency Services.

  • Martin (Marty) Work

    So, if the BOS is the only dog in the room and “staff” is the tail are we to conclude that in Spotsylvania County the tail is wagging the dog?

    “Interoperability” has NOT been put on the table, but is a necessary componet of futureCounty communications capabilities. Where should we go next for answers; our elected officials or their “staff”?

    Is there supposed to be a disconnect somewhere between management and staff? Does County governance MACRO-manage and their staff MICRO-manage County business?

    If staff is in changed of MICRO-managing County business, why is it the BOS, with their MACRO-management level of communicating with the public, is there something to be said of the details staff puts together for the BOS, on any issue or subject matter, but lost in translation and dummied down before the public is even allowed to see even a “draft” of what’s going on behind closed doors? The answer is YES, There is a disconnect and it continues to exist, so as to neutralize the BOS’s accountability and tranparency to the public domain. Last I heard was that Spotsy ranks 14th in transparency to its soverign citizens

    BOTTOM LINE: what do any of US KNOW? If THEY don’t keep minutes of their meetings, how would we know what’s good for the County and what’s not, or is that another leap of faith we are required to make AFTER signing a release and disclaimer that not all of what we see or hear is what we think, or persuaded, it is. YING/YANG. North/South. Liberal/Conservative, Republican/Democrat, LIFE/CHOSE, GOD/ATHIEST, Good/Bad, etc, etc.

    Is there another KATRINA or Gulf Oil Spill in our future? You bet. Or, can we WAIT for the next one to come and then say “we’ve been working on this communication strategy for 10 years and everything SEEMED to be OK THEN.

    So NOW we’re looking to have a business decision made for Spotsylvania County’s population, and claiming the County is no better off than other counties in the region. How does one account for the likes of Chicago and compare it the State of Lousiana AFTER Katrina hit? How close can a County come to being safe, as compare to other Counties, when all you have is a 10 year old document that says we’ll save you but only if we can hear you?

  • Jenny W.

    I will tell you from first hand experience that the CAD system and the equipment in the center is one of the worse I have ever had the misfortune to work with. Even with the pretty face that has been placed on the front of the system and called an upgrade the system is still a massive officer safety issue for the Deputies, Fire/Rescue units and the community as a whole.

    The equipment that the Dispatchers are forced to use and the working conditions that they deal with most people would walk out in protest. Yet for 12 hours a day with substandard equipment these employees make the best out of what they have been forced to work with and told to make do.

    So please do bring in an independent review of this office, and as for the Sheriff’s “no serious emergency problems with the CAD system. He said if the CAD is slow, dispatchers can use pen and paper to write down important information, which is what they used to do.”

    Let the BOS go down in that center during peak times and observe for themselves just just how efficient this is when a unit marks out on a traffic stop and the computer will not keep up with the amount of radio traffic that is flowing in. Or that the current CAD system is not made for Fire/Rescue dispatch and sometimes there are no run cards (meaning the dispatcher has to manually figure out after the call comes in who is the closest units to be dispatched to the address) assigned to the address.

    The only way they will be able to get the opinion or the voice of the employees is to go to them because lets face it no one can cross a Sheriff and work there for long its just the nature of the business. Let them talk to the users of the equipment and not trying to impress the world but instead just trying to make sure that everyone goes home alive and in one piece! Then maybe after the BOS witnesses this with their own eyes they can take the Sheriffs word for what it is.