Mandatory Training for Florida Dispatchers Under Way

A 2008 murder led to state law requiring mandatory training of 9-1-1 operators


 
 

STEVE REILLY, North Port Sun | | Wednesday, November 28, 2012


Nathan Lee, whose wife's 2008 murder led to state law requiring mandatory training of 911 operators, officiated last week over a second class of graduating area 911 operators.

The Lee County Sheriff's Office established its 911 Public Safety Telecommunications Academy program to train not only Lee County's 911 operators, but those from around South Florida including the Florida Highway Patrol, Lee County Port Authority, Lee County fire and ambulance, the city of Sanibel Department and the Florida Gulf Coast University police department.

Sarasota and Charlotte counties' sheriffs are also training their 911 operators to meet state requirements and the challenges of their jobs.

The Lee Sheriff's Academy class was its second class and a third class is scheduled. Nathan is invited to attend the next class graduation in January.

Denise Amber Lee, a North Port mother of two, died at age 21 in January 2008 at the hands of an abductor. The 911 system failed her as her abductor drove between Sarasota and Charlotte counties.

Despite a call from her on her captor's cellphone and at least four other 911 calls regarding the crime -- including one from a witness who saw the kidnapper's car and stayed on the phone for nine minutes with the 911 call center -- no one was dispatched.

Lee's body was found two days later.

The Denise Amber Lee Foundation's goal is to improve and standardize 911 systems around the country so that other victims and their families never have to experience what the Lees went through.

In the wake of Denise's death, state legislators established and upgraded standards for all 911 operators throughout Florida. The state requires certification by the Florida Department of Health of 911 operators, dispatchers, communications supervisors and any law enforcement officer or firefighter who might be called upon to serve in an emergency communications center.

Up to the enactment of the new law, no standardized training existed in Florida, said Christine Hodges, training coordinator for the academy for the Lee County Sheriff's Office.

'Every agency had its own training program from one week to 800 hours,' Hodges said.

In June, the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office announced state requirements of the 911 training program.

The new requirements include 911 dispatchers taking 232 hours of classroom instruction and being tested to become certified to answer calls. Certification may be renewed by completing 20 hours of training every two years.

Charlotte County Sheriff's Office was the 26th agency to be certified by the state, according to Capt. Sherman Robinson, who oversees the department's logistics division. He said the classroom training helps prepare 911 operators with the basic understanding of what they will encounter with 911 calls.

While the state requires the 232-hour classroom instruction, Robinson said, the Charlotte department requires additional training totaling 320 hours.

'It could take six months before we let them answer the phones alone,' Robinson said.

In 2009, the Lee family filed a wrongful death suit against the Charlotte County Sheriff's Office. The suit was settled in August with the court awarding the Lee family a portion of a $1.25 million settlement. The suit was based on the family's claim that the sheriff's office failed to dispatch deputies after receiving a 911 call related to Denise's abduction.

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