People who can’t call 911 for emergencies have the option of texting in most of Florida. But not in Miami-Dade County, which is years behind in upgrading its emergency technology.
County administrators blame a poor purchasing decision six years ago for software and equipment not able to handle the texting volume from a 911 system that receives more than 1 million calls a year in Miami-Dade.
County commissioners on Thursday approved a new $3.1 million contract with the same vendor, Intrado, for upgraded technology that the Police Department says will bring 911 texting options to cellphones across Miami-Dade by early 2023.
The new Intrado contract runs for five years. The Omaha-based company received about $560,000 from the prior contract. which commissioners approved in March 2016. That contract called for a 90-day implementation, in time for that year’s hurricane season.
The memo from the administration of Mayor Daniella Levine Cava summarizing the new contract said the Police Department essentially stopped trying to implement 911 texting options several years ago, despite a Florida deadline to have the technology running by the start of 2022.
“For three years, MDPD and Intrado engineers worked diligently to make the appropriate modifications to ready the system for operational use,” states the memo from Alfredo “Freddy” Ramirez, the Levine Cava deputy overseeing public safety. “In 2019, after numerous attempts to complete the final acceptance test plan, the project was suspended.”
Why can’t Miami-Dade’s 911 center receive texts?
Ramirez was named the county’s new police director on Wednesday by Levine Cava, and will oversee the department implementing the new Intrado system.
“Miami-Dade County is committed to maintaining the highest standard of reliability for 911,” Ramirez said in a statement Thursday morning. “That means we went through an extremely thorough process before selecting a vendor with the technology and capacity to provide this life-saving service to residents. We are confident that both the vendor and the platform meet our requirements and will be able to upgrade our system very soon.”
Miami-Dade’s delays on 911 texting put it behind most counties in Florida, where the state had a deadline of Jan. 1 for jurisdictions to implement the emergency texting technology.
A summary maintained by the state’s Department of Business Management shows 57 of Florida’s 67 counties have implemented 911 texting, including every county with more than 1 million people except Miami-Dade.
Broward launched 911 texts in 2019
In Broward County, Florida’s second most populous county behind Miami-Dade, texting for help has been an option in the 911 system since 2019.
While 911 texts make up less than 1% of emergency requests per year, there are still hundreds of texts that come into Broward’s 911 center each month, according to data provided by the county. Of the average 380 emergency texts to 911 that Broward receives each month, about 20% generated an emergency response.
Across Florida in 2021, there were nearly 27,000 texts to 911, according to the state E911 board, which promotes 911 upgrades and administers revenue from the 40-cent fee charged on cellphone bills in Florida to reduce government costs for digital 911 communication.
Emergency agencies encourage residents to still call 911 even when texting is available. Texting should be used by people who can’t call 911, such as those with hearing or vocal disabilities or in a situation where calling wouldn’t be safe.
“The slogan is: ‘Call when you can, text when you can’t,’ ” said Lori Shepard, public information officer for Broward. “If you’re in a situation where there’s an intruder in your house and you’re hiding in a closet, you would text. If you’re hearing impaired, you would text.”