Cowley County Emergency Communications Director Carl Fortner recently responded, with online comments, to a pair of stories published in Ark City Daily Bytes. Because some readers might already have read the stories before he posted his comments, we decided to reprint them as a separate story so his concerns would be represented fairly.

Thank you Ark City Daily Bytes for continuing to show the community how difficult it can sometimes be to balance competing interests and budget challenges.

I would like to take this opportunity to expand on a couple of issues raised during your investigation.

In 2013, what later became known as the ECAB was doing business as the 911 Steering Committee. But by 2015, members of the group started calling themselves the “9-1-1 Governing Board.” By late 2016 the name had been changed to what it now goes by.

On some level, Emergency Communications is just another County department.

It is staffed by emergency communications professionals that answer to the Board of County Commissioners.

The Board of County Commissioners (through their department head for emergency communications) must then coordinate their activities with the Kansas 9-1-1 Coordinating Council and the Kansas Highway Patrol’s CJIS Compliance Unit.

The ECAB does not fit anywhere in the aforementioned chain of responsibility.

The ECAB can — and should — serve as an advisory body, and a platform for emergency communications to receive feedback from the response community, but the County — and emergency communications — can function just fine without an ECAB.

With regard to the exchanges about CAD and the RMS, it should be noted that either package can function without the other. All that is required is an interface between the two. That is to say, the Emergency Communications Department can use whatever CAD product it wants without it adversely affecting RMS. They are two standalone products that have an interface.

The law enforcement community in Cowley County seems very pleased with the Spillman RMS product.

But the Emergency Communications Department doesn’t just serve the interests of law enforcement.

We serve the entire response community and we must have a CAD system that is capable of meeting out needs as we try to meet the needs of our stakeholders. I, on behalf of the County and the ECAB FTS will continue to survey the CAD market to see where the product we currently have will be in three to five years.

Should the County ever decide to move to a different CAD platform I will personally keep the ECAB and FTS in the loop, but neither I — nor the County Commission — need ECAB membership approval. The only technical requirement will be to ensure that a future product CAD is able to interface with the Spillman RMS.

I would also like to make a distinction between the responsibilities of a couple of County Departments.

Emergency Communications is responsible for processing calls for emergency and non-emergency assistance. To meet that responsibility, we are heavily reliant on technology that is supported by the County’s MIS/GIS Department.

While we’re probably the most “mission critical” customer agency that MIS/GIS supports, we are by no means their only customer.

And that department often serves agencies even outside the County government.

For example, that department — and not mine — is responsible for the interface between CAD, RMS, and — when they had them — Ark City’s MDTs.

Chief Ward’s complaint was that he felt his agency wasn’t being adequately served by the County’s MIS/GIS shop. This was also a concern expressed by Chief Wolfe regarding his ability to receive “run times.”

Because public safety is not the only function that MIS/GIS is required to support, I offered to lead the SAA/FTS group.

The goal was — and is — to facilitate faster turnaround times for local product support by a department that is often task-saturated by the number of departments and agencies they support. Public Safety is now seeing faster turnarounds when problems arise.

But I don’t do it alone. I get significant help in this regard from really good technical people in Emergency Management, Winfield Fire Department and Winfield EMS. Ark City is not shut out of these processes, but only occasionally are they represented at meetings by their IT staff.

It’s really unfortunately that an “us against them” mentality has been created over the last year.

But, unlike how this story-line has unfolded, there has not been any concerted effort to exclude Ark City from anything.

But we’re not going to let Ark City dictate how things are going to be managed either.

In my view, Ark City is a valuable member of the Cowley County team, and Cowley County is a valuable member of the Kansas team. But we often have competing interests and responsibilities too.

I remain committed to the ECAB (of which I am not, and do not want to be, a voting member), but I am a County employee too.

I must protect the County’s legal and financial interests, but also try to work with the broader public safety community too.

As I noted from the start, government is not easy, and there are often competing interests.

The real community benefit being derived from this series of articles is an increased awareness of how hard all government employees work on the public’s behalf.

For the record, we recently changed the call-sign from COWLEY CENTER to COWLEY DISPATCH at the request of newly elected Sheriff Falletti and Undersheriff Jeff Moore.

Both reported that COWLEY CENTER sounded too close to COWLEY 6 AND COWLEY 7. While one can argue that we just adversely affected the entire county’s operations to de-conflict any confusion with COWLEY 6 and COWLEY 7, the change was made to satisfy the Sheriff and his team.

With regard to the pager issue, the County was being asked to pay for pagers that were no longer in use, sitting in drawers, etc.

It is now the case that County 911 money is only spent on pagers in Cambridge and Atlanta where there is insufficient infrastructure to ensure reliable radio, cell phone, and pager coverage.

All other pagers previously deployed throughout the County have been collected and the service supporting them terminated. This has allowed the County to reduce this line item expenditure by approximately 60 percent.

The Sheriff’s Office, the countywide law enforcement community, the Fire Chief’s Association, and Cowley County have already started formulating plans to address the infrastructure issues that have been identified in previous years, but we can’t do anything to boost cell phone coverage where none exists.

That’s why we continue to leverage everyone’s radio infrastructure, cell phone signals, and even manually send pages to responders in Atlanta, Cambridge, and to some degree Dexter.

CCEC personnel will continue to support emergency responders throughout the county, but we may not always agree with course they try to steer. We value the response community’s input, but also recognize that we are responsible things they are not.

Firefighters put out fires. Law enforcement officers enforce criminal law, and Emergency Medical Service personnel render aid to the sick, injured and dying. We don’t tell any of them how to do their jobs, and don’t appreciate it when they try to tell us how to do our’s.

We value everyone’s input, but the County is legally and fiscally responsible for the provision of emergency communications support, and the delivery of 9-1-1 service.

As long as the County holds those responsibilities, the County has legitimate authority over how those services are delivered.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment.