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A Two-Stage 911 Procedure May Have Impacted Police Response to the Parkland Shooting

Cellular callers reporting the Feb. 14 high school mass shooting to the Coral Springs, Fla., communications center had to be transferred to the regional center — a process that likely caused delays.

(TNS) — FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — When 911 callers reported gunfire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on Feb. 14, operators in Coral Springs relayed their information to a regional dispatch center, a process that might have caused fatal delays in the law enforcement response.

The two-step reporting system resulted from Coral Springs’ decision to remain outside a 2013 consolidation of 911 service in Broward County. Parkland relies on Coral Springs for 911 services and the Sheriff’s Office for law enforcement.

“What happened in Parkland was that every single cellular 911 call made from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, every kid in that school, everybody in Parkland that was calling 911 to report information, was that it was going to the Coral Springs communications center,” said Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, chairman of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission.

“Coral Springs is not the primary police provider in Parkland. Broward County Sheriff’s Office is,” he said Wednesday. “So you had people who were conveying firsthand information to the entity that wasn’t the first responder for law enforcement. So what was happening was that Coral Springs would have been required to transfer the callers from the Coral Springs communications center to the regional communications center so the regional communications center could then convey it to the deputies. Was that a factor in this? Yeah, absolutely it’s a factor.”

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, another commission member, said several factors could lead a community to opt out of a consolidated system: Politics, the desire for local control and concerns about the quality of the consolidated service.

Gualtieri said call transfers may discourage callers and add an average of 30 seconds to the response time.

“When the call is transferred, it inherently raises issues and concerns and can cause problems,” he said. “They say ‘Hang on a second, I’m going to transfer you to someone else,’ and you have to tell your story again to somebody else because that’s what happens when calls are transferred. When a person says hold on, a good part of my experience is the caller hangs up.”

After it launched in 2014, the county’s regional 911 system received complaints about equipment failures and dispatchers who sent fire trucks to the wrong addresses. The system went down for an hour last April. Both Coral Springs and Plantation opted out of the system.

Coral Springs officials said Wednesday that the city chose to remain independent from the county because of concerns over control over technology and programming. Deputy Police Chief Shawn Backer said joining a consolidated system would lead to a loss of a “hometown feel,” which means dispatchers would lack the on-the-ground knowledge to quickly relay information to officers in emergencies.

Kathy Liriano, communications administrator for Coral Springs, also said the city’s call takers have different processes for answering questions and dispatching emergency personnel than those in the regional communications department, which they believe leads to quicker responses.

“That’s only true though in the Coral Springs setting,” Gualtieri responded. Because Coral Springs is not a part of the regional 911 system, he said, it still has to transfer emergency calls not in its jurisdiction, adding delays to response times.

Max Schachter, whose 14-year-old son Alex was killed in the shooting, found the “hometown feel” reasoning unconvincing.

“I don’t have any hometown feel — my son is in the goddamned ground right now and he was murdered,” he said. “I live in Coral Springs and I don’t have any hometown feel. I’d much rather give up the hometown feel to have my son back.

“It’s unacceptable to have people calling for an emergency and need law enforcement and need help and BSO not getting those calls,” Schachter said.

©2018 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.