Communication upgrade connects Fla. emergency workers


Copyright 2006 Sarasota Herald-Tribune Co.

By Sarasota Herald-Tribune (Florida)  

Firefighters and law-enforcement officers in Manatee and Sarasota counties haven't had to resort to carrier pigeons to relay important information across county lines. But the system they've been using through the years isn't much more advanced than that.

As the Herald-Tribune's Mari Robyn Jones reported Sunday, emergency workers in the two counties haven't been able to communicate with each other directly when the need arises.

A deputy in Manatee, for example, has to radio a dispatcher in Bradenton, who in turn calls a dispatcher in Sarasota, who — deep breath, now — relays the message to a deputy in Sarasota County.

The psst-pass-it-along system can cause delays of four minutes or more and, just as troubling, leave everyone involved vulnerable to misinterpreted messages.

As a captain at the Manatee Sheriff's Office bluntly put it: "If I needed to say, 'Don't shoot,' and it had to go through three people, I'm dead."

Fortunately, a fix is on the way. On May 1, the counties will fully implement an upgrade in the communication system that will allow dispatchers to connect emergency workers in the two counties directly.

The system has been in limited use by fire departments and others in recent months, and officials are understandably excited about the change.

The system should have been streamlined long ago, but late is certainly better than never. As our region grows, it's essential that officials look for new ways to improve communication — and leave the carrier-pigeon technology behind. 

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