State Police record-keeping of helicopters reviewed by Legislative Auditors; incomplete and lacking in documentation

The cockpit of the Maryland State Police Trooper Seven medevac helicopter. THE CHESAPEAKE TODAY photo

The cockpit of the Maryland State Police Trooper Seven medevac helicopter. THE CHESAPEAKE TODAY photo

Background and Scope of Review

The Department of State Police Aviation Command’s (hereinafter referred to as the Aviation Command) primary mission is to provide emergency medical transportation (medevac) with helicopters located in seven bases throughout Maryland. The helicopters are also used for aerial law enforcement, search and rescue, homeland security, and disaster assessment services.  All requests for medevac or other services are made to a central dispatch facility known as the System Communications Center (SYSCOM).  Upon receipt of a call for a helicopter, SYSCOM personnel record the request in a computer-aided dispatch system and contact the appropriate helicopter base to dispatch the aircraft.  Information from this system is the source for the Aviation Command’s reported mission data, which was the subject of the OLA’s review.

According to the Department of Legislative Services, since fiscal year 2003, the Aviation Command has received approximately 80 percent of its funding from the Maryland Emergency Medical System Operations Fund (MEMSOF) and 20 percent funding from the General Fund based on the ratio of medically-oriented missions to non-medically-oriented missions. MEMSOF is primarily funded by a surcharge levied on owners of motor vehicles registered in the State.

The scope of our work consisted of obtaining mission data extracts for fiscal years 2006 to 2013 from the computer-aided dispatch system maintained by SYSCOM, which is the underlying basis for the Aviation Command mission data annually reported in the Managing for Results (MFR) section of the State’s budget books. We assessed the reliability of the data by comparing it to independent records, such as aircraft logs maintained by pilots.  In accordance with the committees’ request, we also reviewed SYSCOM and the Aviation Command procedures for accumulating and reporting helicopter mission data to assess if those procedures provided reasonable assurance as to the reliability of the reported data.  The scope of our review was less than that of an audit conducted in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards.

Results of Review

Our review of the Department of State Police Aviation Command’s mission data and collection methodology disclosed the following:

Mission Data

OLA’s tabulation of the Aviation Command helicopter mission data for fiscal years 2006 to 2013 is shown on Exhibit 1 in accordance with the eight mission types identified in the committees’ request. We also separately included cancelled missions – when a helicopter was requested, but was cancelled before take-off.  (According to the Aviation Command, mission cancellations were included in its reported mission data, such as medically-oriented and law enforcement activities.)  Together, data for the eight mission types and the cancellations represent the Aviation Command’s total mission activity.

Collection Methodology

Our review of the collection methodology used to record and report helicopter mission data disclosed that the Aviation Command needs to address the following four issues to improve its effectiveness in providing accurate mission information:

  • The Aviation Command had not developed comprehensive definitions for the mission data (such as Air Medical Activities) reported in the Managing for Results (MFR) section of its annual budget submission (see Exhibit 2). The Department of Budget and Management’s MFR Guidebook requires agencies to develop definitions for the measures reported in the budget documents.  Although, via footnote, the Aviation Command had identified certain activities included as Air Medical, the list was not all inclusive.  For example, we were advised that the Aviation Command included all cancelled medical missions and deemed all support missions to be medically-oriented for reporting purposes.  Thus, the reader may not have a clear understanding of how the Aviation Command determined the number of medically-oriented missions it reported, including how cancelled missions are counted.
  • The Aviation Command lacked written procedures to document and ensure consistency in how MFR data is retrieved and reported. Furthermore, there was no documented supervisory review of the mission data reported in the MFR sections of the budget documents.
  • The Aviation Command did not maintain a historical record showing how the reported mission data was compiled and was unable to recreate the reported information from the existing data. We noted certain differences between the mission data reported annually by the Aviation Command and those we present in Exhibit 1.  For example, total actual missions (including mission cancellations) reported for fiscal year 2013 (5,737) differed with OLA’s total (6,097) by 360.
  • There were no documented quality assurance reviews over the recordation of nonmedically-oriented missions (such as law enforcement missions) recorded in the computer-aided dispatch system. In comparison, the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems (MIEMSS) annually reconciles medical missions recorded in the SYSCOM dispatch system to a separate MIEMSS system that is used to document patient care.

We shared these results with the Department of State Police, which generally concurred with OLA’s tabulation. The Department advised that it intends to take appropriate action to address the four bullet points above and thus improve its mission collection and reporting methodologies.

EXHIBIT 1

OLA Tabulation of Aviation Command Helicopter Data by Mission Type

Fiscal Years 2006 to 2013

Mission Type FY 2006 FY 2007 FY 2008 FY 2009 FY 2010 FY 2011 FY 2012 FY 2013
Scene Medevac        5,327        4,927        4,504        2,626        2,241        2,455        2,677        2,428
Interfacility Medevac            278            126            124              89              78              73              63              78
Search and Rescue            393            385            359            316            359            484            507            363
Support        1,155        1,055            721        1,002        1,781        1,284        1,034        1,160
Law Enforcement        1,880        1,114            702            416            380            527            863            870
Homeland Security              54            219            120                5                6              25            107            254
Disaster Assessment                –                –                    1                2              11                2              18                7
Natural Resource Police                –                –                –                –                5                4              55              27
Total Missions With Flight Time          9,087        7,826        6,531        4,456          4,861        4,854        5,324        5,187
 
 

Cancelled Medically-Oriented Missions

704 586 578 502 341 447 739 727
Cancelled Support Missions    

10

 

12

               3                8                31              27              31              39
Cancelled Other Missions 54 56 64 64 67 87 144 144
Total Cancelled Missions* 768 654 645 574 439 561 914 910

Source: SYSCOM

* OLA separately identified cancelled missions, since the Joint Chairmen’s Report requested information for the eight mission types.  According to the Aviation Command, mission cancellations were included in its reported mission data in other categories as medically-oriented or law enforcement activities.

EXHIBIT 2

Helicopter MFR Data – Fiscal Years 2012 and 2013 Actual

Source: Fiscal Year 2015 Proposed Operating Budget

AUDIT TEAM

Stephen C. Pease, CPA

Audit Manager

Brian S. Han, CPA

Senior Auditor

Samuel Hur

Staff Auditor

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