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Stoneman Douglas Safety Hearing Scrutinizes 911 System in Parkland, Coral Springs, Broward

Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter Jaime was killed in the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, spoke with reporters during a public safety commission meeting on Tuesday.
Kate Stein
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

A poorly organized 911 system hampered the police response to the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

That’s one finding discussed on Tuesday by the public safety commission investigating the shooting.

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, the commission chair, detailed how the complex, multi-agency police and emergency response system in Parkland delayed police officers attempting to respond as the shooter opened fire. Parkland contracts with the Broward Sheriff's Office for police services and Coral Springs for fire and emergency medical services (EMS). The two agencies have two separate dispatch centers, which are not automatically in communication with each other.

911 calls from cell phones in Parkland go to Coral Springs dispatchers. That means if someone is trying to call police from a cell phone in Parkland -- as dozens of students and teachers attempted to do as gunfire erupted -- their call will go to the Coral Springs communications center. Coral Springs dispatchers then have to relay the call to Broward.

"Who in the world thinks that when you call 911 and you tell your story, someone’s going to say, wait a minute, and I’m going to transfer you to someone else, and you have to tell your story again?" Gualtieri said.

Read more: After Stoneman Douglas Shooting, Renewed Attention On Broward's 'Vulnerable' 911 System

He told the commission that from the time the first call came in about the Stoneman Douglas shooting, it took 69 seconds for the first sheriff’s deputies to be alerted. By the time they found out, 23 people had been shot.

Gualtieri said he’s concerned that nine months later, Broward, Coral Springs and Parkland still haven’t worked out a permanent fix to that and other emergency communication issues. And, he said, other counties in Florida have the same problem.

Commissioners continue their meetings the rest of this week. A preliminary agenda says they'll be hearing from Broward schools Superintendent Robert Runcie, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel and former Broward County Sheriff's Deputy Scot Peterson, the school resource officer who's been widely criticized for not entering the building where the shooting was taking place.

Meanwhile, the family of one of the victims of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against the FBI for failing to act on tips about troubling behavior by the suspected shooter.

Jaime Guttenberg, a 14-year-old freshman known for her love of dance, was among the 17 people killed. Speaking with reporters during a break at the hearing, her father, Fred Guttenberg, said the lawsuit is among the many measures victims' families are taking to hold accountable the people and agencies who missed tips about the alleged shooter's mental health problems.

"My daughter died and it was preventable, if people would've done their job," he said.

He said lawyers from the Miami firm Podhurst Orseck will be representing the family.

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Kate Stein can't quite explain what attracts her to South Florida. It's more than just the warm weather (although this Wisconsin native and Northwestern University graduate definitely appreciates the South Florida sunshine). It has a lot to do with being able to travel from the Everglades to Little Havana to Brickell without turning off 8th Street. It's also related to Stein's fantastic coworkers, whom she first got to know during a winter 2016 internship.Officially, Stein is WLRN's environment, data and transportation journalist. Privately, she uses her job as an excuse to rove around South Florida searching for stories à la Carl Hiaasen and Edna Buchanan. Regardless, Stein speaks Spanish and is always thrilled to run, explore and read.