FL - Agencies Hung Up on 911 System Collapse...Backups Didn't Work

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Title: Agencies hung up on 911 system collapse

posted 05/09/00

By Robert Eckhart STAFF WRITER

It appears that Charlotte County's fail-safe 911 system wasn't so fail-safe after all.

A construction crew accidentally cut a fiber-optic cable in North Fort Myers at 4 p.m. Monday, crippling 911 service and cutting off long-distance service to about 75,000 households in Charlotte and Lee counties.

The 911 system has three backups, but none worked. Now the Sheriff's Office and Sprint telephone company are pointing fingers. The Sheriff's Office blames Sprint, while Sprint blames the construction crew that severed the cable.

The 300 or so Charlotte County callers who dialed 911 from 4 to 8 p.m. got busy signals and faced delays of up to 15 minutes before they talked to emergency operators. The 911 lines weren't fully restored until after midnight.

The delays didn't threaten any lives, according to the Sheriff's Office and Charlotte County Fire & EMS. Most of the calls, sheriff's officials said, were routine: people reporting speeding drivers, and motorists involved in fender-benders who needed a deputy to write a report.

But the incident pointed out significant flaws just a few months after the county opened its new $4 million 911 dispatch center, which was touted as being more reliable than its predecessor.

Sheriff's officials said there's no way one broken cable should have had such an impact. Assistant 911 coordinator Dave Phillips said Sprint representatives had assured him that there was a backup cable.

And if that didn't work, the 911 calls should have been transferred to the Punta Gorda Police Department. Or the calls should have been routed to a different set of telephone numbers.

But none of that happened.

"We've had assurances that this wouldn't -- couldn't -- occur," Phillips said.

At least one of the problems is apparently settled. The alternate 911 telephone number that did not work Monday afternoon has been fixed, Phillips said.

The backup cable is also being installed, said Sprint company spokeswoman Mildred Graham. She said Sprint planned to have a backup cable in place by last fall, but the work was delayed.

On the other hand, she emphasized that it wasn't Sprint's fault the cable was punctured.

"The bottom line is, were the cable not cut, this would not have happened," Graham said.

Sprint is paid about $200,000 per year to provide 911 service to Charlotte County.

Phillips said he called the Public Services Commission on Tuesday. He said he wants the regulatory agency to make sure Sprint fixes the problems found Monday evening.

"We're not in the business to tell them how to run their circuits," Phillips said. "Normally, we've left it at that.

"We're probably remiss that we never required them to put it in writing. But we are now."

Staff writer Robert Eckhart can be contacted at 627-7583 or robert.eckhart@herald-trib.com. Sarasota Bradenton Venice Manatee Charlotte Longboat Key Siesta Florida beaches Gulf golf news sports weather entertainment



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