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Tamarac, Fla., Boosts Resilience with County Partnership

Hurricane-prone Tamarac, Fla., is a small city that makes the most of limited resources to support public safety. They work with Broward County via an interlocal agreement in which they share 911 services and Sheriff's Office IT.

two people walk with an umbrella in windy and rainy conditions in Miami
Small jurisdictions are just as vulnerable to earthquakes, wildfires, floods and tornadoes as their larger counterparts, but often don’t have the budgets to invest in high-tech interventions. Some, however, are being creative with less expensive innovations. Roanoake, Va., for example, is using sensors that monitor water quality and flow in storm drains and tunnels and is developing an app that would alert downtown property owners of potential flooding. The city also has purchased a drone to help with emergency response for stormwater control and flood preparedness, and to assess damage after an event.

The city of Tamarac, Fla., in the Miami metropolitan area, has learned how to use technology and partnerships to get the most out of its emergency preparedness budget. Last year, the Center for Digital Government* recognized Tamarac as one of the top digital cities in the up-to-75,000 population category. As part of Tamarac’s Smart City and Technology Strategic Plan, new fire stations are highly integrated with the city network for 24/7 systems monitoring, and smart parks are powered by an expansion of the city’s underground fiber network that was completed in fall 2020. The fiber also makes the city better able to withstand disasters like hurricanes.

Levent Sucuoglu has been the IT director in Tamarac for the past 27 years. In November, he was promoted to interim assistant city manager. Government Technology recently talked to him about how working closely with Broward County has enhanced public safety and emergency preparedness in Tamarac.

GT: Smaller jurisdictions often don’t have the budgets to make investments in new technology infrastructure to support public safety and emergency management. I understand that Tamarac put an interlocal agreement in place with Broward County for public safety radio systems and dispatch services. Can you describe that?

Sucuoglu: We have a long-term partnership with the Broward County Sheriff’s Office for public safety that has multiple layers. They provide law enforcement services for the city. We have our own Fire Rescue Department, but they both use the same public safety radio for communications. Our partnership has evolved to such an extent that Fire Rescue is dispatched by the Sheriff’s Office. We use the same communication system to make sure that our responses are coordinated and we have mutual connectivity. It’s a much more evolved partnership than just using the radio system.

We also provide some services for the Sheriff’s Office. We have a local district office for the sheriff, which serves Tamarac residents as the local law enforcement agency. Because we’re the closest technology house to that group of about 110 people, we provide their telephone service through the city’s infrastructure; we provide the infrastructure for their body cameras, so that they transmit the video information over our network. It’s a very mingled relationship when it comes to infrastructure, in emergency and public safety services.

GT: How do the city and county work out who pays for the systems? Do you estimate cost savings for not having two separate systems?

Sucuoglu: The county’s 911 dispatch and public safety systems are funded through the county taxpayers, so our share of the designated revenues goes to fund these services, instead of keeping our share of those revenues for Tamarac and trying to build our own system for radio dispatch. For 911 communications, we have this mutual system that provides the service to not just Tamarac, but also to some other cities in the county as well. Obviously, this saves a huge amount of effort for smaller communities like us, because we don’t have to build this modern technology, the infrastructure, and exert the effort to manage it. It’s all done by these local agreements.

GT: Are there other things that Tamarac has done to be more agile in emergency response and disaster recovery?

Sucuoglu: We have done a number of things, and our cloud presence is just one of them. We have been preparing for emergencies for quite some time, and the pandemic definitely expedited this transition almost overnight. The majority of our data and systems are in the cloud. Most critical communications — like Microsoft Office and Teams and our storage for SharePoint and OneDrive — all of those are in the cloud. We make sure that all our new systems, including our ERP system, which we’re in the process of implementing right now, are cloud-based.

GT: Did the pandemic accelerate that work because you have so many employees working from home?

Sucuoglu: We had been preparing with what I always call “cloudification” for a long time. But in March 2020 it just happened overnight. We had to shut down our offices and make sure that we were still able to operate remotely. That worked out great for us. All the investment that we’ve done in the cloud has really paid off. Now there’s no going back.

GT: Have you had to respond to an emergency such as a hurricane that has knocked out power or severely affected residents or the city’s capabilities?

Sucuoglu: In South Florida, that’s routine. In the last couple of years, we’ve been lucky enough that we haven’t had any major events. But we still have had a number of smaller events that caused damage to our neighborhoods, to our grid, and to our communication infrastructure.

GT: Does that test the capabilities that you and the county have set up to make sure that communications and emergency response responds well?

Sucuoglu: The last part of our testing is during an actual emergency. But we also regularly test our systems, relationships and connectivity. One of our connected systems is called EOC, which is a web-based system that allows us to communicate with the Emergency Operations Center of Broward County. All communities have our own emergency operations centers, and we have our representatives at the county’s Emergency Operations Center. We all follow an emergency operations structure to communicate, to request resources, to report our status and to provide resources to the appropriate place in a joint effort during those events.

GT: It sounds like Florida has strong partnerships between the state, counties and cities on emergency response.

Sucuoglu: Yes. We always had a mutual response system, but after the most recent significant hurricane in 2005, everything evolved so much more, including standard operating procedures and education for all the localities, and the establishment of a partnership in the southern part of Florida. I think our systems have evolved to a great extent, so now we have a great joint effort in dealing with these nature events, or any kind of emergency.