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Fla. city to address 911 deficiencies over a year after Parkland shooting

911 callers were put on hold and transferred, and the emergency radio system froze due to excessive traffic during the attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School


A memorial at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School where 14 students and three staff members were killed during a mass shooting.

Photo/AP by mpi04/MediaPunch /IPX

David Fleshler
Sun Sentinel

PARKLAND, Fla. — The 911 and police radio deficiencies exposed by the Parkland school shooting are finally being addressed, after years of squabbling among government agencies, officials said Wednesday.

In testimony to the commission investigating the shooting, Broward law enforcement and county officials painted a far more optimistic picture than that of two months ago when police and fire chiefs said they didn’t trust the county government to fix the system.

“I see progress and movement in several areas in Broward County communications that really needed attention,” said Sunrise Police Chief Tony Rosa, representing the Broward County Police Chiefs Association, crediting the involvement of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission.

Emergency communications problems contributed to the chaotic response to the Feb. 14 shooting. Frantic callers to 911 were put on hold and transferred. The emergency radio system froze from excessive traffic, forcing police officers to communicate with hand signals.

Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony told the commission that the 911 transfers for Parkland callers will be eliminated by September.

“We anticipate this is going to run pretty smoothly once we get the kinks worked out,” he said. “… It’s going to happen. It’s going to get done.”

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, chairman of the commission, said he was now far more optimistic than before when he had expressed frustration at the failure of local officials to address problems that posed a direct threat to public safety.

“It sounds like since our last meeting you all came together and made significant progress,” he said. “The way it went the last time was the system is broken. That was the consensus across the board, and it wasn’t fixable and nobody was talking. It sounds like everybody is now talking and moving in a positive direction.”

Compounding law enforcement officials’ frustrations with the system, the problems had been well known. The emergency radio system had previously failed during the January 2017 shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, where five people were killed.

The county has been working to replace it, having appropriated the money, but has not been able to complete the job. The delays in replacing it have led to intense criticism of the county from members of the Stoneman Douglas commission, who considered its replacement an urgent public safety priority.

Broward County Administrator Bertha Henry claimed “significant progress” but said the new system won’t be up and running until the first quarter of next year, at the earliest.

In particular, she told the commission, there will soon be a resolution on a major sticking point, the location of a new radio tower in Hollywood, one of 16 towers going up as part of the new system.

The county wanted to put the 325-foot tower at West Lake Park. The city and many residents opposed that location as a blot on an environmentally sensitive site. The city proposed putting the antennas on top of a new condo going up downtown, a location that the county’s experts said wouldn’t work as well.

Both sides have agreed to abide by the recommendation of an independent consultant, Henry told the commission. The report is due on Friday.


©2019 the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)