Broward Sheriff: Fragmented 911 system would send MSD calls to wrong agency

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The Commission named after school tragedy met for a status update in Sunrise Tuesday.

​​Conditions that contributed to 58 minutes of chaos at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School — and students bleeding out on classroom floors — still exist today, a school safety panel heard Tuesday.

Four and a half years after the tragedy that left 17 people dead at the Parkland school, Broward County Sheriff Gregory Tony said the way things are now — as they were when bullets flew — Coral Springs police would be on the other end of the line if an MSD student called 911 to report an emergency.

The fact that Coral Springs has its own emergency 911 system that requires transferring calls to Broward County’s 911 system is believed to have been a key reason precious minutes were lost in getting help to the wounded at the scene of Florida’s worst school shooting.

There have been attempts to integrate the two systems, but it hasn’t happened, Tony told the panel.

“Four and a half years later and it’s still not fixed,” said Commission member Max Schachter, whose 14-year-old son, Alex Schachter, died in the carnage. “That’s extremely frustrating.”

In the wake of the tragedy in 2018, there was some discussion of Coral Springs joining the county’s system, but that has since dissolved, and the system is on the brink of fracturing further. Coconut Creek is in the process of leaving Broward County’s 911 system and joining Coral Springs’ emergency system.

Tony said there’s only so much he can do. It really has to do with the relations between Broward County and Coral Springs.

“I have the authority to do what I need to do to fix BSO which has been fixed and rectified,” Tony said. “The problem is when you’re trying to breach connections and partnerships with other organizations that have their own independence.”

The Sun-Sentinel reported this spring, however, that the 911 Broward County dispatch has been so understaffed, emergency calls have gone unanswered.

An air of incredulity hung over the proceedings Tuesday, so much so that Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri wanted to understand what he just heard.

“So today, four and a half years later, if a kid in Stoneman Douglas High School today picks up their cell phone and calls 911, where’s that going?”

Tony said the call would go to Coral Springs, instead of the agency serving Parkland.

“It would make sense that we get this final element executed so that the calls are being transferred to the right spot, but I can only control so much,” Tony said.

Tony’s report was on the agenda as the Commission named in honor of the school shooting met in Sunrise Tuesday. The Commission was established in the wake of the 2018 tragedy to analyze school safety data to keep another incident from happening again. This past Session included legislation extending the Commission’s charge into 2026.

Anne Geggis

Anne Geggis is a South Florida journalist who began her career in Vermont and has worked at the Sun-Sentinel, the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Gainesville Sun covering government issues, health and education. She was a member of the Sun-Sentinel team that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Parkland high school shooting. You can reach her on Twitter @AnneBoca or by emailing [email protected].

One comment

  • It's Complicated

    August 3, 2022 at 9:18 am

    Every county should have a consolidated dispatch system. Even with that, these systems are not foolproof, as evidenced by what happened with Leon County’s consolidated dispatch system a few years back where an officer was murdered in a planned 911 call ambush. Dispatchers need to be able to readily see ‘notes’ so they can offer warnings to background information to responding officers.

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