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Study says 911 systems have shortcomings

MANATEE — A study of Florida’s 911 system found several areas where it falls short of providing the best in public safety services.

The Gulf Coast Community Foundation of Venice, a nonprofit philanthropic organization, released its findings of a year-long study Monday.

The study was undertaken after an investigation revealed a Charlotte County 911 operator may have mishandled a call from a kidnap victim, who ended up being killed.

“It’s a direct result of the abduction, rape and murder of Denise Amber Lee,” said Mark Pritchett, the foundation’s vice president for community investment.

The results of the study showed there is no single state agency that monitors the effectiveness of the 258 different call centers in Florida.

Also, each one of the call centers has separate standards for training, protocol and equipment.

“As a result, centers do not necessarily employ industry best practices and standards, and Floridians receive uneven levels of service,” the study executive summary stated.

Manatee county officials recognized the shortcomings in the 911 system highlights the need for a comprehensive look at all the issues.

“Overall the study is pretty accurate,” said Jim Lanier, division manager of the Manatee County Emergency Communications Center. “It makes some important points.”

But Lanier was confident the county’s system had none of the problems the study pointed out.

“The situation that occurred in Charlotte should not happen in Manatee County,” he said. “Our folks are cognizant of what happened and work hard to not make the same mistake.”

Capt. Larry Leinhouser, spokesman for the Manatee County Public Safety Department, said the system the county has in place “is probably the best in the state, if not in the country.”

Lanier said he stresses training for his call takers and dispatchers to ensure they are qualified to do their job.

Two Florida legislators have been working to institute statewide standards and were glad the study showed they were needed.

Senator Nancy Detert, R-Venice, and Rep. Ken Roberson, R-Port Charlotte, introduced bills during the last legislative session to require 911 call takers be certified.

The Senate bill made it through committees, but stalled when the House version got hung up, Detert said.

Lee’s body was found in Roberson’s district, and because of that incident his constituents are very aware of problems with the 911 system.

“We need a minimum standard through out the state,” Roberson said. “This is an important public safety issue for the whole state.”

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