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Fla. county commissioners push for 911 technology update, including video access

Broward citizens now have a video upload through an app, but the new tool would let dispatchers send an invitation link to any cellphone call via text message


Operators answer emergency calls in 2015 at the Broward County 911 dispatch center at the Sunrise Public Safety Building.

Photo/Mike Stocker/Tribune News Service

By Lisa J. Huriash
South Florida Sun-Sentinel

BROWARD COUNTY, Fla. — Angst between the County Commission and the Sheriff’s Office over the regional emergency call dispatching center continues to mount as politicians plan to question the Sheriff’s Office about why the county lags in 911 technology.

County Commissioner Michael Udine, whose term as mayor ended Tuesday, said he’s interested in pursuing video-to-911 technology, which exists now in Volusia County and in Miami-Dade as a pilot project. The technology would allow the 911 call center to turn voice calls to live video, but recently told county commissioners “the problem that we keep having is the sheriff tells us he’s not ready for this just yet.”

The 911 video option allows a call taker to send an SMS invitation link to the caller. The caller can then accept the invitation to share device location information and activate the device’s camera. The technology would show a caller’s location, and a “breadcrumb depiction of movement” is updated every three seconds, “which is extremely valuable when the caller is in a moving vehicle or a boat on the water and requires assistance,” according to the business proposal.

“It’s great stuff; it’s stuff we should be doing,” Udine said at a public meeting. “This should be so easy to do. Let’s figure out a way.”

Dan Plunkett, a sales executive with Carbyne, a public safety technology company, told county leaders at the same meeting “this is life-saving technology that takes maybe an hour to install” and is technology comparable to a ride service or food delivery service.

He said there was no technology overhaul needed with Broward’s current system “so we’re a bit perplexed as to why the Sheriff maintains they are not ready for this.”

The Sheriff’s Office did not respond to a question about its concerns about 911 video capability, instead saying a citizen video upload portal has been available for months. The SaferWatch App allows people to report incidents and receive real-time safety alerts directly from law enforcement — but citizens need the app to do it.

County Commissioner Mark Bogen said this week the topic of 911 video will be added to his laundry list of grievances that he’s expected to broach at the Dec. 6 County Commission meeting, which includes recommending that the Sheriff’s Office be removed from running the 911 system.

“We’re going to talk about everything. We need to be using the best technology and why aren’t we?” he said. “Everyone is going to have to be accountable.”

“Look, the Sheriff has shown no leadership at 911,” Bogen said at a recent commission meeting discussing the 911 video option.

“We found out about the problem from the Sun Sentinel,” he said referring to a Sun Sentinel investigation in April in which the media company discovered a slew of 911 problems including unanswered calls and staffing problems at the Sheriff’s Office.

“He never came and said ‘My people are underpaid, I got a mess here, I need help,’” Bogen said. “We need to lead. Because there is no leadership in 911.”


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