Monday, April 13, 2009

Public Safety Telecommunications Week

Another good article in the North Port/Charlotte Sun today. See below.

This week is Public Safety Telecommunications Week, so, be sure to thank your local 9-1-1 dispatchers and call takers! Obviously don't call 9-1-1 and thank them. Use the non-emergency number:o) And if they are congenial feel free to ask them to send a recipe!!!!

Thank you.

And special thanks to call takers and dispatchers everywhere who do their best and utmost to help save lives. God bless you.

Call for Life

As 911 operators are commended this week, recent tragic events point to training as key

When Jennifer Johnson called 911 last November, frantically explaining that her ex-boyfriend had kidnapped and locked her in the trunk of a car, the Plant City operator never asked her name. In the 73 seconds the two were on the phone, the dispatcher only asked her location.

Johnson's body was found several days later. The 911 dispatcher, Amanda Hill, was fired, and the dispatch supervisor, a captain and sergeant all resigned.

According to a 700-page investigation, Hill didn't dispatch an officer to try to help Johnson, 31.

These type of mishaps require members of the local Denise Amber Lee Foundation to work year-round on raising awareness of 911 call center inefficiencies, promoting improvements to 911 call centers, and offering assistance to families of murder victims.

April 13-18 is designated as Public Safety Telecommunications Week, recognizing the daily service of 911 operators who help save lives. However, it comes shortly after another highly publicized 911 operator-related tragedy.

On April 4, an Allegheny County, Pa., 911 operator failed to alert officers there were weapons in a home where a mother and son were fighting. Moments after arriving, three officers were killed when a 22-year-old ex-Marine opened fire on them.

"You hate for this to happen," said Plant City Police Chief Bill McDaniel. "I've always said the telecommunications operator is the toughest job in law enforcement. They have to deal with the heightened tension of every situation. They must multitask, balance calls, provide important information, keep the caller calm by asking the right questions and usually have a person standing behind them."

McDaniel said some of his employees mishandled the 911 call, gave out misinformation and didn't follow standard policies.

"We acknowledge our mistakes and hope other agencies learn from them," he said, adding operators have 16 weeks of training.

McDaniel appreciates the efforts of the Denise Amber Lee Foundation in lobbying for universal 911 operator training throughout the United States. Fourteen years ago, he researched the benefits of universal training for 911 operators. He also patterned his 911 operations center after a statewide program in Oregon.

In Lee's case, she was kidnapped last year from her North Port home. As Lee, 21, struggled for her life, she, along with three others, called 911. During a manhunt for Lee, witness Jane Kowalski called a 911 Charlotte County Sheriff's operator and stayed on the line for nine minutes, providing locations where a suspicious man was driving. However, no deputy was dispatched to investigate the driver, who was later identified as the suspect in Lee's murder.

Most states have no standards for 911 telecommunications training. Every law enforcement agency establishes its own.

In North Port, 911 dispatchers handled 77,394 calls in 2008. This year, they have received 21,965 calls so far.

The city is currently two positions short of the budgeted 12 telecommunication operators.

"Our standards are much greater than any mandatory training," said North Port Police Sgt. Scott Graham. "It's necessary for our operators to be competent in every aspect of the job."

The city's telecommunications shift supervisors, Cindy Martin and Misty Elmore, prepare presentations to administrators on a quarterly basis. They outline call volume, overtime, training they've attended, goals and other monthly tasks.

One of their six-month goals is to work more with Charlotte and Lee County operators.

"We send the operators to crisis intervention and other training that's offered to police officers," said Capt. Kevin Vespia, who plans on buying all of the dispatchers lunch or dinner this week to thank them for their dedication to the department.

Vespia said North Port has a solid group of veteran operators who remain calm during some of the most chaotic situations.

"They have been there for so long, they just know how to react," he said.



North Port Community News Editor