Sea Cows, Snowbirds, And Bragging Rights

Audrey Fraizer

Audrey Fraizer

ACE Achievers

There's a lot to like in Manatee County, Florida (USA), making it a wonder why the seasonal snowbirds don’t set their nests permanently.

For starters, the manatee—or “sea cow”—is a major attraction in the Florida county that bears its name. The marine mammals are relatively easy to spot in the Manatee River, and not only because of their size. They float near the surface and, although it may seem tempting, swimming among them is discouraged due to the abundance of alligators.

For those who are more of a bird-watcher, the watershed boasts herons, egrets, wild peacocks, and pelicans. Bald eagles perch high in the trees most likely in feasting anticipation of redfish, mackerel, black drum, and snook. Anna Maria Island along the Gulf of Mexico draws vacationers year-round to its spectacular beaches and clear waters. The seasonal “snowbirds,” flying south to avoid the northern winters, double the population during colder seasons of the north.

Sea cows. Birds. Spectacular beaches. What more could a person want? Well, it’s also congenial, as the county’s business and administrative hub leads one to believe. Bradenton, which is nicknamed the “Friendly City,” lies along the Gulf Coast. The unofficial logo is a pair of sunglasses.

Carrie Flynn has spent most of her life in Manatee County. She’s quick to point out the area’s virtues and the pride she takes in being part of the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO), Bradenton. Flynn is the director of the MCSO communication center and heads a “well-grounded” team (45 total positions, including hers). The cross-trained calltakers and dispatchers handle it all, she said, from abductions to active assailants, and everything in between, as the county’s secondary PSAP for police. The exceptions are explosions (bombs) and calls involving the deceased, per interlocal agreement.

The communication center’s layout is a prime example of getting along on either side of what used to be a wall. Friendly inside and out. The MCSO communication center and the Manatee County Emergency Communications Center (ECC) share the same space in the county public safety building, although they are independent organizations working to complement what the other does.

The MCSO is a law enforcement agency, so it only follows that its communication center takes Manatee County emergency and non-emergency police calls. They take about 360,000 calls for service per year. In addition, they monitor activities of the patrol deputies and coordinate additional resources such as Crime Scene, K-9, SWAT, and Dive Team. The ECC takes 911 police, fire, and medical calls and dispatches for Manatee County Emergency Medical Service, Manatee County Marine Rescue, and nine independent fire agencies. They take about 400,000 emergency and non-emergency calls per year. Police calls are transferred to the MCSO.

As Flynn explained, “They do their jobs, and we do ours.” At the same time, she emphasized, they are all part of a larger team. In other words, there is no one-upmanship. A wall that formerly set a boundary between them was taken down soon after Flynn became the MCSO director. “We had worked like this for a long time, and then we opened the room up,” said Flynn, who has held just about every position at the MCSO communication center.

Easy as that.

The wall was solely a physical separation. Logistics. It organized the complicated activity of the county’s 911 operations. The wall never prevented them from knowing one another, particularly since they do come together as a group. They celebrate National Telecommunicators Week. They play games (for prizes), look forward to dress down days, and pull out plates and utensils for the waffle breakfast cooked and served by the administrators. They spotlight staff for high compliance, among other achievements, separately, although with the same intention.

And don’t forget the working relationship that exists between dispatch and field response.

“Who doesn’t say they love helping people in this profession,” asked Kyle Evans, EPD, EPD-Q, and MCSO communication training coordinator. “It’s also the rapport, close relationships with crews, and the mix of everything we do. You never really know what will happen next.”

Evans wanted to be a police officer and communications was his step in the door. Well, he’s been there nearly seven years and has no plans of going anywhere else. He said the job’s perfect for him: customer service, focus on police, protocol, fast paced, and his enjoyment of multi-tasking and technology. He’s the type of emergency dispatcher every center would jump to clone.

“Wish I could bottle everything it takes to do this job,” Evans said. “Definitely a learning experience.”

Accreditation is one sure sign of what it takes to do the job well. It’s also a concept shared between the two agencies. The ECC is a tri-ACE and while the work to achieve ACE is completely independent, MCSO personnel couldn’t help but notice the ACE spirit across the room. Flynn attended NAVIGATOR 2013 on a “personal mission”—an ACE centric information gathering—and in a year’s time the MCSO became the eighth police ACE in the world and the first secondary PSAP to achieve the recognition.

Ask Flynn why, and she’s incredulous of why someone would ask. “I immediately saw the benefit of ACE for our calltakers, agency, citizens, and officers. Accreditation validates what we do. Staff works very hard, and ACE shows they achieved the highest standard.”

Of course, it’s not an ACE for ACE sakes. Flynn is a huge EPD advocate (she is on the IAED Police Council of Standards and—once achieving accreditation—accepted the invitation to the Board of Accreditation as a reviewer). She likes structure. She likes knowing that every time the phone rings, they do it right. She liked what she saw in the Police Priority Dispatch System (PPDS®) and how it worked.

“Without the Protocol, you’re stuck scrambling to pull things outside of your brain,” she said. “It’s all here. No guesswork.”

Flynn’s “very happy” in her police world and secure in the protection Protocol provides. She wants her staff to feel comfortable and challenged at the MCSO home away from home, and what she does—and what has been done in the past—is proof. They buck the trends in turnover. Some staff members have been there almost as long as Flynn and she started in 1990, although taking a few years break and returning in 2008. Fifty percent have invested over 10 years at the MCSO.