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Local Officials' Access To State-Level Crisis Management Calls Could Expand Under Senate Bill

David Goldman
AP Photo

The Florida Senate has passed a bill officially requiring cities and counties to report crisis situations to the state Department of Emergency Management. Perhaps more significantly, though, an eleventh-hour amendment expands local officials’ access to state level conversations during emergencies.

“Simply what the bill does is, it requires municipalities and local governments to report incidents of a certain magnitude to the state Watch Office,” Senate sponsor Republican Manny Diaz said in explaining his bill at its last committee hearing.  “Under current law, they’re not required to do that.”

Diaz’s proposal breezed through the process without getting a single down vote.

The state’s Watch Office is within the Department of Emergency Management, and is housed at the state’s Emergency Operation Center in Tallahassee. Diaz ran down some situations for his colleagues that he says the state should know about when they develop.

“It is not intended for them to reveal any information that would interfere in a pending investigation or anything like that. But if there is something going on like an active shooter, some kind of large water main leak or something like that, the (state) emergency management office should know,” Diaz said last month.

The proposal lays out specific emergency situations that would warrant mandatory reporting if it should get a signature from the governor: things like major fires, bomb threats, hazardous and extreme weather, evacuation orders and emergency shelter openings.

Many of these types of emergency incidents are already reported, Diaz’s bill just codifies a system of reporting. Florida’s Emergency Management department reports the Watch Office monitors between 8,000 and 9,000 incidents per year statewide.

Senator Jeff Brandes tacked an amendment on to Diaz’s bill just before it cleared the chamber, which expands the state-level conversations local officials are privy to.

“As you know, we’re dealing with a number of issues here in the state of Florida, whether it be hurricanes or viruses, often times there are emergency phone calls that take place,” Brandes said during the chamber’s floor session Friday.

Brandes’ amendment would let local officials listen only.

“This amendment simply allows your local city and county officials to listen in, on a listen-only mode, to these conversations as they’re taking place,” Brandes explained. “Often times, there’s just a mass email that’s sent out a couple minutes before these, or even a few minutes before these phone calls take place.”

That access to different agencies’ calls goes both ways, according to the Saint Petersburg Republican.

“For example, if the counties have an emergency call, the cities can listen in, if the state’s having one, anybody else – above or below that food chain – can listen in on a listen-only mode,” Brandes said.

Ultimately, Diaz found Brandes’ amendment a welcome addition to his legislation, telling his colleagues it “makes the bill better.”

Diaz’s bill has been sent to the House, which had a nearly identical measure from Rep. Anthony Rodriguez scheduled for second reading Friday. At the time of this recording, the bill had not come up on the House floor.

Ryan Dailey is a reporter/producer for WFSU/Florida Public Radio. After graduating from Florida State University, Ryan went into print journalism working for the Tallahassee Democrat for five years. At the Democrat, he worked as a copy editor, general assignment and K-12 education reporter.