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El Jefe

Broward 911: Emergency Help Needs More Help

County leaders declared victory yesterday when Commissioner Sue Gunzburger changed her vote and agreed to a system for funding an emergency calling system.

Problem is, repeatedly over the years, studies have shown these systems don't live up to what they need to be.

"There is no consistency in training, and there is no consistency in the quality of equipment that is used," says Daniel Caplis, a Denver lawyer who specializes in suing municipalities where 911 fails. "Irreparable damage has been done to injured individuals and many lives that could have been saved."

Take the case of Denise Lee, a 21-year-old mother of two who was kidnapped and killed in 2008. Five calls to 911 in Charlotte County were made on the morning of her abduction. Lee even sneaked her attacker's phone and called emergency operators. To no avail. The operators kept asking dumb questions. And they didn't know other operators had answered Denise's call.

You think a countywide 911 system will do better with this sort of thing? Then you don't live in the same South Florida that I do, where big school systems and enormous sheriff's departments repeatedly lose track of detail.

County voters supported a regional system in 2002. And that was a solid step forward in our thinking.

What we really need, though, is not this. We need better, standardized training of 911 operators. Gunzburger's changed position might help us get there. But it is far from the lifesaving measures that we need now. As with much of Broward government, it is too little and far too delayed.

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Chuck Strouse is the former editor in chief of Miami New Times. He has shared two Pulitzer Prizes and won dozens of other awards. He is an honors graduate of Brown University and has worked at newspapers including the Miami Herald and Los Angeles Times.
Contact: Chuck Strouse

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