10 Investigates Pasco 911 and finds major problems | News
New Port Richey, Florida -- Dona Fernandes is Pasco County's public safety communication director. She was recently hired to merge operators taking police and fire 911 calls.
"I think it has substantially improved since I've walked in the door," Fernandes told 10 Investigates.
The merging process requires that 911 operators are cross-trained to handle both types of calls because each type of call has specific procedures and guidelines.
Fernandes agreed to sit down with 10 News Investigates reporter Mike Deeson.
"I actually think it has gone very well," Fernandes said.
When asked about the day of the Wesley Chapel theater shooting, where several people had to wait two minutes for their calls to be transferred to report the shooting of Chad Oulsen, Fernandes admitted, "There's a training issue."
That training issue includes the fact more than 75 percent of the 911 operators are not cross-trained to handle both types of calls, which is why in the theater shooting the phone rang seventeen times as a fire certified operator was waiting while transferring the call to a police certified operator.
"Does it cause a problem that there wasn't cross-training before you switched over?" 10 News asked.
"Again, the cross-training presented a problem because of the technology," Fernandes said.
According to a 2013 survey of all 911 operators, the technology is a mess. Operators report the Computer Assisted Dispatch, or CAD, repeatedly freezes, which causes backup in radio traffic, and there are concerns over officer safety issues.
Among other notes in the survey, operators said there are errors involving ambulance and fire trucks being sent to the wrong addresses.
"The mapping system - I'm sorry, the mapping information did need to be revised," said Fernandes.
10 Investigates also found a shortage of 911 operators and some emergency calls going unanswered. One of those calls was from retired police officer Kevin Catton.
"It was a huge loss of blood ... our house looked like a murder scene," he said.
Catton's emergency happened two weeks ago when he accidentally cut his wrist with a box cutter while working in his garage.
His wife tried calling Pasco 911 twice.
"It rang ten times and nobody answered again - and I'm losing blood all this time - and I knew I was in trouble," Catton recalled.
A neighbor took him to the hospital.
Even if Catton had made contact, he could have been talking to a 911 operator who failed the state certification test, but Ferandes told 10 Investigates, "They are still qualified to accept those calls and help the people who are calling."
That is true. The state allows operators three times in one year to pass the certification exam and those operators "in training" can take calls with supervision.
Fernandes has also let her certification lapse, and despite her six figure salary, is not currently certified in the state of Florida, nor has she completed her retraining, meaning she can't take calls.
Since the law passed in 2012 requiring 911 operators to pass a certification test - before that it was merely voluntary - some operators are still having problems even after they are certified.
10 Investigates has a documented call of a certified Pasco County 911 operator sending emergency crews to the wrong address. That certified operator is now in remedial training.
"There are weaknesses in certain aspects that we've addressed," said Fernandes.