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Sheriff's Office Wants 911 Glitch Fixed
The agency asks the Public Service Commission to look into the May 8 breakdown.
Source: Sarasota Herald-Tribune Publication date: 2000-05-17
The Charlotte County Sheriff's Office wants state regulators to make Sprint fix glitches in the 911 emergency telephone system before hurricane season begins next month. The problems surfaced May 8, when a severed phone cable caused a four-hour lapse in Charlotte County's emergency service.
The Sheriff's Office filed a complaint Tuesday with the Public Service Commission, asking it to look into the breakdown and to make sure Sprint makes repairs.
Dave Phillips, assistant 911 coordinator for the Sheriff's Office, said he's not taking the phone company's word that things are OK.
Phillips said Sprint officials assured him that there were three backups to the emergency phone system.
But none of them worked May 8, when a drilling crew accidentally cut a phone line in North Fort Myers, crippling 911 and knocking out long-distance service in Lee and Charlotte counties.
The 300 or so callers trying to call 911 between 4 and 8 p.m. had to wait up to 15 minutes before connecting with a 911 operator. The emergency phones weren't completely restored until about midnight.
The failures demonstrated several problems in 911 service just a few months after the county unveiled its $4 million 911 dispatch center, which the county believed would be more reliable than its predecessor.
Sprint spokesman Jason Duff said the company will do its best to fix the problems as soon as possible.
"This is a very complicated issue that's going to require a lot of attention," Duff said. "It's a large task, but it could be done."
Sprint is paid about $200,000 a year to provide 911 service. The money comes from a 50-cent charge on monthly phone bills.
Some of the problems, according to the complaint:
* Since the accident also knocked out long-distance service, the Sheriff's Office couldn't get through to Sprint's main programming center in Orlando, where technicians are available to fix the 911 service. Sprint technicians in Punta Gorda tried to help but had not been trained to do the work.
* When the primary 911 lines don't work, the calls are supposed to be rerouted to a different phone number. That line was hooked up, but it could receive only one call at a time.
* A backup phone cable should have taken over after the primary cable was cut. But it was not installed the way Sprint officials said and didn't work.
Duff said Tuesday that he could not address details of the complaint yet. The company has a week to prepare its written response.
Once the response and the complaint have been filed, the PSC will decide how to handle the case, a commission spokesman said.
Although the outage caused delays in 911 service, no lives were threatened, according to the Sheriff's Office and Charlotte County Fire & EMS.
Staff writer Robert Eckhart can be contacted at 627-7583 or email@example.com.
-- (Dee360Degree@aol.com), May 18, 2000