If they are desperate for help in the midst of a medical, fire or law enforcement emergency, the last thing Pinellas County residents dialing 911 need is to be transferred from one dispatcher to another. Public safety should never be put on hold.
Pinellas County Administrator Bob LaSala and Sheriff Bob Gualtieri have cut through bureaucratic inertia to finally move toward merging the sheriff's dispatch and 911 call centers to create lifesaving efficiencies.
Of the 563,402 emergency calls handled by Pinellas dispatchers last year, 219,617 callers were transferred to other police and fire agencies in the county. That includes 58,186 calls that were transferred to the Sheriff's Office, where the need for service needed to be explained again. That is precious lost time in dispatching the appropriate first responder to the emergency.
To streamline the 911 process, LaSala and Gualtieri have formed a committee of staff members from the Sheriff's Office and the county's public safety services, and eventually other county fire and police agencies, to develop a more sensible, long overdue one-stop merging of call centers. The goal is for a new system to be operating by the time the sheriff's public safety complex is completed in 2014.
For the sake of improved public safety, it's about time, in more ways than one.