Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Nathan Lee's speech at CalNENA San Diego, CA

I'm so very very proud of him. Just before his speech they showed a video of his and Denise's story. Practically everybody was crying. Including Nathan who just before his speech had to wipe his eyes. The video received a standing ovation! Mark said that during the speech Nathan was very emotional and had to hold back tears several times. He received a standing ovation at the end as well! After the speech everyone was hugging him and congratulating him. The legislators that were there want to help guide us and are giving us copies of their laws. They've been wonderful. Denise must've been smiling down on Nathan and giving him heart. She'd be so proud of him...........

BTW Mark wrote the speech.

Here's it is:

CalNENA Speech 2009

Good morning everyone.

I want to first say how honored I am to be asked to speak to this group of dedicated public servants.

In my eyes, you truly are the first line of defense for our Homeland Security.

What I would like to talk about today is to first tell you about the Denise Amber Lee Foundation that I started in honor and memory of my wonderful wife and second;

I would like to challenge your thinking on a different way to bring about changes and improvements to your industry.

There are 4 of us from the foundation here this week for the conference.

We hope to target several gatherings like this, this year to learn as much as we can.

We are not experts by any stretch of the imagination.

But we are energized and intensely motivated to do whatever we can to prevent any other family from experiencing the pain and heartbreak that we have suffered.

The famous anthropologist, Margaret Mead, once said:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

So we are here this week to talk to as many of you as possible, to take in the trade show and listen to how you feel we should best be focusing our efforts to make a difference.

As you saw in the introductory video, many opportunities were lost that day to save Denise.

It is not my intent to vilify an industry and a system that failed her that day.

Make no mistake about it; it was a monster named Michael King who murdered my wife.

But when you look closely at the procedural breakdowns and miscommunication of vital information that occurred in that one 9-1-1 Call Center in Florida that night, you can’t help but be outraged.

There is no doubt in my mind that Denise would be alive today if vital information wasn’t grossly mishandled that evening!

And, indeed, over the ensuing months after Denise’s death, we heard from thousands of people from around the world who were outraged.

Many of the most memorable letters and emails that we received were surprising to us, from people in this industry.

We could feel the genuine compassion in those letters for our tragic loss.

We received this touching email from Geoff Weiss, training supervisor for the San Diego Sheriff’s Department.

He wrote....... “Last Thursday I taught my first class since last being in email contact with you.

Although the class was about an unrelated dispatch topic, as promised I took about 30 minutes of it to discuss the story of Denise.

I played the opening Dateline NBC 9 minute piece prior to going on our first break.

Later in the day, I finally played the conclusion..... Nate.... after the video finished I turned around to address my class of 31 dispatchers throughout the state of California and was struck by a chill of emotion as I saw half of them were in tears.

I walked back up to the front of the room, swallowed back the lump in my throat and said, “Remember why you took this job.

Remember what a critical role you play every day in public safety.”

Captain Josh Mindick Special Services Commander of the Boca Raton Florida Police Department wrote this......

“Mr. Lee, as a law enforcement professional, Commander of a 9-1-1 center, father, and husband, I watched Dateline NBC in a stoic silence.

I ordered every Telecommunicator, Police Officer and Firefighter who works in our 9-1-1 center to attend a training block on this tragedy.

It will be watched from Day 1 for new hires so that they will understand the tremendous responsibility that comes with the career they are about to undertake.

During our first session, every one of them was in tears at one point or another during the video.

It is important for my people to hear what the families had to say.

They need to realize the impact that they can make on the outcome of a call for service.”

And he finished with........ “I think they got it!”

Since Denise was the daughter of a detective of the sheriff’s office, a trust fund was set up for the community to donate to our family.

The outpouring from the community was overwhelming. College funds were set up for my two sons, Adam and Noah.

An anonymous donor picked up the tab for the entire funeral.

I knew at this point that I had to do something to give back to the community.

So on June 8th last year, I formed the Denise Amber Lee Foundation.

I wanted to raise funds so that I could help families who experienced similar tragedies but didn’t have the enormous backing of the community like I had enjoyed.

I wanted to set-up trust funds for these families, maybe pay for funerals or help with their debts.

I’m sure many of you are aware of Kevin Willett's group at 911cares.com that provides comfort and support to members of the 9-1-1 community experiencing tragedy.

I think that is an absolutely wonderful idea.

That is what I want to provide for families experiencing tragedies from the shortcomings and inefficiencies of the 9-1-1 system.

The Denise Amber Lee Foundation also is chartered to raise public awareness of 9-1-1 issues and to promote solutions.

I started the foundation with $15,000 of money donated to our family and we are now aggressively seeking donations and sponsorships to carry out our mission.

The largest community foundation in Florida soon partnered with us in our cause. The Gulf Coast Community Foundation of Venice brings their considerable resources and influences to our disposal. In this past legislative session of the Florida legislature, Denise’s father, Detective Rick Goff and myself were called to Tallahassee to support pending legislation for a first ever training standard for 9-1-1 call takers and dispatchers.

Unfortunately, it was an unfunded and voluntary bill, although a great first step.

(Insert Nathan’s account of the event.)

Several legislators are ready to sponsor legislation in the coming session of the Florida legislature to make this training mandatory......

This is what keeps me going.....

This is my motivation....

Helen Keller was once quoted as saying....

“Many persons have a wrong idea of true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.”

Most of you are familiar with the tragic circumstances of TV’s Americas Most Wanted host, John Walsh.

His 6 year old son Adam was kidnapped and brutally murdered in Florida in 1981.

In his book “Tears of Rage,” Mr. Walsh writes;

“People who haven’t been hit by crime can still enjoy what my wife and I call ‘the luxury of being na├»ve.’

They go around thinking that it could never happen to them. I envy those people; I truly do.

They don’t know any better.

They don’t understand that, once it happens to you, everything changes, every tiny aspect of your life.

And even though you may look the same on the outside and maybe acting the same way; on the inside you’re coming from a totally different place.”

He continues “To us, even back in the early days, our most basic understanding was always unspoken: Adam cannot have died in vain.

If we had not gone on to do what we eventually did, we would have remained as we were: two grief stricken hand wringing parents who other people looked at and felt sorry for.

But we both came to believe that if you are given the opportunity to change things, then how can you at least not try?”

It has only been 9 months since we started the Denise Amber Lee Foundation but we have had our successes.

Everyone has heard the saying “Sometimes you can’t see the forest for the trees.”

That saying means when you are involved with all of the small details, it’s hard to see the larger picture.

I feel that is one of our advantages. We don't know the details.

Our concept of 9-1-1, and I think shared by most of the general public, is that you dial 9-1-1 and help arrives fast.

In our pursuit of seeing how we can make a difference, we have taken a more in depth look at how the industry works.

From our perspective of being on the outside looking in, it is crystal clear that the 9-1-1 system is a complicated, complex array of hardware, software, telecommunication networks, personnel and procedures that must all operate flawlessly for the system to work......

It is absolutely amazing to me that the system doesn’t fail more often.

The Denise Amber Lee Foundation has initially identified five areas that we would like to focus on;

Number 1 is training.

We feel that mandatory, standardized training is a must.

The best technology in the world is useless if call takers and dispatchers aren’t trained properly on its use.

Many of you who saw the Dateline and Primetime episodes on Denise’s case know that those shows focused on the mishandled 9-1-1 call from a citizen hero, Jane Kowalski.

Believe me, if you study the Internal Affairs Investigation of that night you will see many other mistakes from lack of training and improper procedures.

It is not my intent to speak on those errors today but if anyone is interested in those details, please see one of us this week and we will be happy to disclose those to you.

From the many emails we have received, mandatory training appears to be a goal of many of you in the industry as well.

The second area of focus for our foundation is appropriate compensation for call takers and dispatchers.

We have discovered that some jurisdictions in this country have starting salaries as low as $10.50/hour for call takers.... ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

(here Nathan ad libs and talks about working at Best Buy selling televisions. He points out how much he makes, which is substantially more than call takers and dispatchers in certain areas. He makes a point that he doesn't save lives.)

In emergency services it is hard to say that one link in the chain is more important than another.

Everyone agrees that the call takers job is stressful and at times heart wrenching as they try and console a hysterical caller.

Everyone agrees that if this initial contact with the caller in need of assistance isn’t handled appropriately, it doesn’t matter how good the rest of the chain is, it is going to fail and a tragedy could be the result. If not for the trained and efficient call takers and dispatchers; police would not be able to prevent the rape and murder of a young mother; fire fighters would not be able to recue a child from a burning building and EMTs would not be able reach an accident victim in time to provide life saving first aid.

In an industry where employee retention is an issue, how can we attract dedicated, compassionate, and career minded workers; ask them to endure the stress and undergo the hours and hours of training necessary to perform their duties efficiently for $10.50/hour?

We can’t.

The public has to be made aware of this... and it has to change.

The third area that our foundation would like to address is increased funding for the tremendous financial challenge of bringing Next Generation Technologies and procedures on line.

In my home state of Florida, we pay a mere 50 cents per month, per phone line for 9-1-1 services.

I am confident that if the general public was aware of all the issues we are addressing today, they would willingly pay more.

Our fourth area of concern is quality assurance.

I know that many of your agencies have quality assurance procedures in place.

But we have heard from many industry people from around the country that analysis of how calls are handled and dispatched only occur after a tragic outcome.

There needs to be an ongoing, automatic random review of calls.

It would be a valuable opportunity for continuing education and training to correct errors before they result in a tragedy.

Our fifth area of focus is cell phone location.

It is hard to say that this area of focus may be the most important as all of these items have tremendous life saving potential.

But clearly the ability to know exact location of the mobile phone making the call to 9-1-1 for help would potentially save thousands of lives annually.

This is an issue that is baffling to us and most of the general public.

This is an issue that frustrates most of the people in this room.

We, as outsiders to the industry have very basic knowledge of Enhanced 9-1-1 and basic knowledge of locating a phone caller through triangulation calculations.

This seems to be time consuming, labor intensive, and obsolete information if, as in my wife's case, an abduction is happening in a moving vehicle.

Do the calculations have to be continually revised? My wife, Denise, was somehow able to make a 911 call during her abduction using her killers cell phone. She was able to keep the line open for 7 minutes before he realized what she had done. I know Denise thought that if she could keep the line open, the police would be able to trace her location and save her.

I have a little Garmin GPS screen on my dashboard that I can activate and watch my car on a detailed map, travel down the highway.

It seems to be incredibly accurate down to a few feet and displays all of the names of the approaching streets.

In my area of Southwest Florida, I live on the beautiful Gulf of Mexico.

I can hop in my friend's fishing boat for a day of grouper fishing, plug in a few GPS coordinates and head out into this vast marine wilderness of some 615,000 sq miles and find a pre-programmed reef site of maybe 30 feet across, 30 miles off the coast, where we can catch grouper all day.




The members of our foundation who are here this week need your thoughts and opinions on this issue.

I can’t think of any greater opportunity to save lives than to be able to locate a person in distress that uses their cell phone to dial 9-1-1.

Tell us where the difficulties lie. Help us understand the challenges of this critical issue from your perspective.

I mentioned in the beginning that I would like to challenge your thinking on a different way to bring improvements and changes to the 9-1-1 system.

Once again, it appears to this outsider, as this industry transitions into a Next Generation Framework, there are some amazing challenges pertaining to funding, technology, training, etc…

Again, public perception of the industry is very different than the reality.

It takes the public to urge their politicians to enact laws for adequate funding and standardized procedures.

It appears to me that the industry is woefully under-funded and unprepared to utilize the new communication technologies being brought to market today for consumer purchase.

This is a huge public safety issue.

If the public was aware of this fact they would demand that the 9-1-1 system be provided with adequate funds to fully staff the centers with motivated, compassionate and appropriately paid personnel.

They would demand the center be outfitted with the tools needed to process today’s technologies.

They would demand that policies, procedures and technologies be in place to reduce the opportunity for human error.

I submit to you,... that this public outcry for improvements to the 9-1-1 system will happen at a far more rapid rate by publicizing and focusing on the mishaps in the industry as opposed to the success stories of lives saved.

I don’t know how many of you saw the Dr. Phil show that Mr. Charles Cullen and I were featured on.

And, I know many of you cringed as you watched an hour of these painful stories.

But, if you looked at the message board on Dr. Phil’s website, you would have seen that show generated more comments than almost any show aired during that 2 or 3 week timeframe.

The Dateline NBC episode featuring our tragedy was the #1 story on the Dateline website for 6 weeks.

That’s what this industry needs.

That’s the kind of public reaction and outrage that will drive public policy for change.


The stories of talented call takers and dispatchers who provide calming directions to a father to help birth his son or daughter are heart warming. And these 911 workers need to be recognized and rewarded. I think of these stories as being miraculous and applaud them.

But I wonder if these stories are not counter-productive to raising public awareness of the shortfalls in funding that, I am sure all of you agree, are facing this industry.

If the public just sees these “feel good” stories, they will feel no urgent need to approve an additional fee on their phone bill to improve a 9-1-1 system that appears to have no problems or challenges.

Let me tell you what The Denise Amber Lee Foundation is doing to prove this theory.

Unfortunately, in our home state of Florida, there are no shortages of 9-1-1 tragedies.

Our initiative in Florida is to build a database of these tragic instances and identify the Florida legislators who represent the victims in those legislative districts.

These legislators are willing soldiers in the fight for mandatory training, increased funding and other issues that need addressing in the state’s 9-1-1 system.

It becomes political suicide to oppose changing the system that may have contributed to the death of one of their constituents.

For those cold-hearted legislators who still don’t feel the need to act, the press is more than willing to publicize their opposition.

My father recently contacted New York Assemblyman David Koon for his advice on making changes to Florida’s laws.

He came across Assemblyman Koon’s story on the E-911 Institute’s website.

Mr. Koon’s daughter, Jennifer, was abducted from a suburban mall parking lot in 1993 and murdered.

Mr. Koon was aware of Denise’s story.

When he heard the pain and disgust in my father’s voice, he also heard the dedication and commitment to do something about it.

Mr. Koon offered his heartfelt condolences and then chuckled and said “I know exactly what you’re feeling and get ready for an education in politics.”

He said, you need to set up meetings with legislators in Tallahassee and appeal to their sense of compassion, fairness, and doing what is right.

And if that doesn’t work be prepared to get in their face and start yelling and screaming.

He went on to say; “Don’t underestimate the power of threats.

Tell him or her that if they won’t support this legislation, you will run against them in the next election and take their seat.”

And he was saying this from experience….This is exactly how Assemblyman Koon’s political career started.

When he asked a local official to have security cameras installed in the parking lot where his daughter was abducted, he was told no.

That local official lost the following election to.... Mr. David Koon. Thus began his political career.

One of Mr. Koon’s legislative priorities was full funding of E-911 in New York State.

His daughter made a 9-1-1 call during her abduction ordeal but, although the call lasted 20 minutes, 9-1-1 dispatchers were unable to locate her.

E-911 was not fully implemented as late as 2003 because of opposition of then governor, George Pataki.

When 4 teenagers in a row boat on Long Island Sound died because no one could locate their position after a call for help to 9-1-1, Assemblyman Koon went on state TV and called Governor Pataki a murderer for not signing this legislation.

The next time the legislation came before the governor, it was promptly signed.

When John Walsh’s son, Adam was abducted, he and his wife assumed that the FBI would come swooping in immediately to catch the bad guy and return their son.

What they found out was shocking to them.

The FBI could look for stolen automobiles but was not authorized to look for stolen children.

To their further amazement was the fact that there was no national database to keep track of the over 150,000 child abduction cases each year.

The shocking reality of their story brought much needed attention to this issue and was instrumental in the passage of The Missing Children’s Act and the establishment of the National Center For Missing and Exploited Children.

Let me give you just a couple other examples where these tragedies energized society and policy makers in a positive way for change.

In 1996, 9 year old Amber Hagerman was abducted while riding her bicycle in Arlington, Texas.

Four days after the abduction, her body was found in a drainage ditch.

Her parents, with the help of Marc Klaas, whose own daughter Polly had been abducted and murdered in 1993, soon established People Against Sex Offenders.

The intense media coverage and public outrage this case generated forced Congress to draft the Amber Hagerman Child Protection Act which was eventually signed into law in 1996 by President Clinton.

Of course this led to the very successful Amber Alert System that we are all familiar with today.

And this last example, unfortunately, again comes from my home state of Florida.

Jessica Lunsford was a young girl in Florida who was raped and murdered by John Couey, a convicted sex offender.

Couey lived just a few hundred yards from the Lunsford home.

Public outrage over this case spurred Florida officials to introduce and pass “Jessica’s Law.”

This is the informal name given to a law designed to punish sex offenders by imposing a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years in prison and lifetime electronic monitoring.

These are just a few, of the many examples of the power of these tragic events.

These are examples of where rapid change occurred as a result of the good people in society, rallying around cause, brought to their attention by media coverage of a tragedy.

As I wrap up my presentation here today let me reiterate that you and I know that these tragedies are truly a small percentage of all calls made to 9-1-1 every year.

I don’t have the statistics but I am sure some of you do.

But I want you to consider that this very small percentage can have a huge... positive impact on this industry if it can be channeled and focused in a responsible way.

You are on the front lines of one of the noblest causes there is; saving of human lives.

You are compassionate and dedicated people who do your best under stressful situations.

The French novelist Victor Hugo once said;

“Greater than the threat of mighty armies is an idea whose time has come.”

I truly feel that the time has come for the dedicated, committed members of this industry to embrace this idea as a powerful weapon for change.

The Denise Amber Lee Foundation wants to position itself at the forefront of this issue.

We want to not only provide comfort and support to the families of victims but also to provide hope…

That their loved one didn’t die in vain.

We want to give them an outlet and an avenue to channel their pain, anguish, and yes; sometimes anger to bring about changes and improvements to this essential service.

We envision a partnership with 9-1-1 industry members and responsible media to drive change to public policy.

It is true that media tends to sensationalize these stories to boost ratings but isn’t this what we want?....

As many people as possible to see the senseless and sometimes tragic outcomes resulting from the lack of funding that would allow you to better train and equip your 9-1-1 Communication Centers?

I have to tell you that the media has shown true compassion to us during our tragedy and seem genuine in their offers of assistance to help us anyway they can.

I want to again thank CalNENA for this opportunity.

We are excited and looking forward to the next couple of days and we are energized for this cause.

I would urge all of you to visit our website at www.DeniseAmberLee.org and we welcome all comments and suggestions and finally let me leave you with this:..

The 18th century Irish political leader and author, Edmund Burke, once said

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

I have seen the evil in our society but I have also seen the good;

and I have enough faith in human nature to predict that if people knew about the problems and challenges of this industry

AND the sometimes horrifying consequences of its failures, they would do something to stop it.

Thank you and God Bless you for your service.