Although government is notorious for spending good money on bad studies, which usually end up collecting dust on a shelf, that was not the case with the International City/County Management Association’s Center for Public Safety Management’s review last fall of the emergency dispatch system in Ocean City.
The ICMA was given $17,000 plus expenses to conduct an in-depth analysis of the town’s emergency services dispatch operation as a result of the town “facing a decision regarding the future of this department.” Additionally, the ICMA team approached the review with a certain understanding “that there are ongoing complaints about the department’s performance emanating from the agencies it serves. This study documents these complaints to help assess their validity.”
While the review did not report on specific calls that resulted in delays in response, it did include scathing comments from members of the Ocean City Fire Department about these botched incidents, which OCFD leadership said is a direct result of poor staff training and inadequate leadership by the Emergency Services Department.
The review concluded the OCFD and Ocean City Police Department need to document specific instances when disappointing response times are recorded and review them with pertinent departments. That seems like common sense, but apparently that’s not being done or details of the specific incidents of concern were not relayed to the ICMA team.
While the delayed response times are obviously a major concern, and indications are remedies have been made to address those previous shortcomings, the major problem highlighted again and again in this report is the “very poor” communication between the OCFD and Emergency Services Department. The report stated rarely do these agencies hold meetings and they communicate infrequently. That relationship is disturbing, and the ICMA instructed the city to deal with these in-house issues immediately.
These are two key public safety agencies and it has long been known the leaders of the departments are not on good terms and this has apparently boiled into animosity that is affecting communication. This report details that relationship, or lack thereof, and City Manager David Recor has used its finding as a basis to meet with the respective department heads. That meeting took place this week and will reportedly take place quarterly from here on out.
It’s been made clear the city will not just stop at these leadership meetings. Recor has said he will not tolerate this communication disconnect any longer and that is where the report has proved its worth. It was an issue that needed attention, and the Mayor and Council must monitor the situation and request updates on how this relationship has been mended and if the spirit of collaboration and teamwork is prevailing.
The objective review of the unacceptable relationship between the OCFD and Emergency Services Department was needed and it should continue to be in the spotlight. Time will tell if this relationship can be improved without a personnel change.
What’s most important beyond the individuals involved is public safety and this report confirms the city needs to make it clear politics and differences cannot deter that mission.