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Consolidated for the cause

By DAVE SCHEIBER, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 6, 2002


Dial 911 in Pinellas County, and all calls are funneled into a centralized communications command post in Clearwater. Charles Freeman not only serves as 911 manager for the county, but also is the manager of the Pinellas emergency communications center.

Dial 911 in Pinellas County, and all calls are funneled into a centralized communications command post in Clearwater. Charles Freeman not only serves as 911 manager for the county, but also is the manager of the Pinellas emergency communications center.

Everything is neatly consolidated.

But what works in Pinellas isn't necessarily suited for Hillsborough County. Because of its larger population and size (1,072 square miles, compared with Pinellas' 280 square miles), Hillsborough uses separate law-enforcement agencies as Public Safety Answering Points: the Sheriff's Office for unincorporated areas, and police forces for Tampa, Plant City, Temple Terrace, Tampa International Airport, MacDill Air Force Base and the University of South Florida.

"Based on what jurisdiction you happen to be in, the call will go directly to that law enforcement agency," says Joe Reavy, 911 Manager for Hillsborough County.

Reavy works for the Board of County Commissioners, and none of the county's communications centers comes under his supervision. Instead, he acts as overall administrative 911 director.

"There's a lot of good points to having a consolidated operation, but we're so much bigger than Pinellas in land and population," he says.

Reavy does not have access to specific response-time statistics (they are kept by individual agencies within Hillsborough) but says he is pleased with the way the 911 system works. The Public Service Commission conducted an audit last month of Hillsborough's system, making 40 random calls to see if they were answered within 10 seconds. Hillsborough ranked in the 97th percentile, well ahead of the recommended 90 percent.

Pasco County, meanwhile, has a system that more closely resembles that of Pinellas. Pasco has a primary emergency communications center in New Port Richey. The center gets all calls from the unincorporated parts of the 750-square-mile county. But Pasco has additional answering points for incorporated areas in each of its four cities, Zephyrhills, Dade City, Port Richey and New Port Richey.

"The one change we're making is we're currently initiating construction of a new communications center," says Pasco 911 coordinator John Schroeder. "We're going to bring in the Sheriff's Office, so fire, rescue and the sheriff will work out of the same facility."

Like Hillsborough, Pasco was rated in the 97th percentile in the PSC audit, says Schroeder. He says the average response time from the receipt of a call to help being dispatched is about 45 seconds.

"One thing about the counties here in the bay area," Schroeder says, "is that we inter-change calls well. Especially with wireless calls. We get calls in the south part of the county that are Pinellas, and Pinellas gets a number that are for Pasco. We have a one-button system that automatically sends the call back to the county you want to get to."

The counties will be involved in Sept. 11 observances : Hillsborough's will take place at noon at Joe Chillura Courthouse Square in Tampa. In Pasco, the two biggest events will be a candlelight vigil in New Port Richey at 7 p.m. in Sims Park, featuring honor guards from Pasco Fire and Rescue and the Sheriff's Office; and an 8:15 a.m. ceremony in Dade City at Chapel Hill Gardens.

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