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CDA Prepares To Launch Long-Awaited Software Update

Kate Payne/WFSU

Tallahassee’s troubled 911 call center is preparing for a long-awaited software update that could keep first responders safer.

It may sound inconsequential, but Tallahassee’s Consolidated Dispatch Agency has been working towards this particular software update for nearly two years. The agency’s computer aided dispatch system, developed by Motorola, has been plagued with software glitches and some human error. The agency hit rock bottom in November 2014, when Leon County Sheriff’s Deputy Chris Smith was killed by an armed gunman. The agency failed to alert Smith of threats made by the man against first responders. Smith responded to a house fire set by the man, and he was killed immediately. This Monday, Motorola will install updates aimed at making premise hazard alerts unavoidable.

“It’s a great thing to have for officer safety reasons. Just like you said with Chris Smith, had it been used the way it was meant to be, things very possibly, and I believe, would’ve gone a lot different. The situation could’ve been approached differently,” she said.

That’s Caroline Pararo, a shift supervisor at the CDA. She says the new program will force dispatchers to acknowledge the premise hazard alerts before moving forward with a call. It seems like a relatively simple fix, but the update has taken years to roll out. And it’s an attempt to fix what many see as the root of the agency’s problems. Here’s agency head Dee Crumpler.

“We’re close to the finish line. We’re 90% there. And if we can just finish and just get to the finish line I think it will be best for most importantly out community and the CDA. That’s my goal,” he said.

The rollout will begin Monday at 3 am, and should take 6 to 8 hours to complete. Work stations will be updated individually, so dispatchers can revert to the old system in case something goes wrong. The CDA’s Luis Berenguer says the call center will run on a back-up system during the installation.

“It’s designed so that nothing passes from call-taker to dispatcher without going through this central location. We’re going to have the premise information pulled up on our computer, we’re going to have maps, all of our resources there just to make sure that we don’t really lose functionality,” he said.

The killing of Deputy Smith exposed other chronic issues within the agency, namely employee turnover. Since Dee Crumpler took the helm in December 2015, he’s launched a hiring push, cut down on mandatory overtime and expanded mentoring and counseling programs. While the new updates are designed to preserve officer safety, there is still room for human error. For call-takers like Laura Reid, it’s part of the job description.

“I try to be as diligent as possible. But we’re human, people make mistakes. And I think too that people are less forgiving of those mistakes because of the role that we’re in,” she said.

Call-takers like Reid work 12 hour shifts, 3 days on, 2 days off. Plus mandatory overtime. They’re constantly pulling data: checking premise hazards, confirming locations, and gathering medical info, all while trying to keep the caller calm. It’s a taxing job. Sometimes traumatic, and oftentimes thankless. But for Reid, it’s worth it.

“We do have those moments where, maybe you’re helping someone do chest compressions and they actually got a pulse back. Or we’re able to get responders out for someone breaking in a person’s house. And they actually manage to get there in time to catch the person and give a positive id and put that person away. Things like that make me feel better,” she said.

The software update should be finished by Monday at noon. The agency says the public shouldn’t experience any delays during the installation process.