Shortage of 911 operators means dispatch still can’t promptly deal with flood of calls

BSO official said nearly 100 dispatchers will soon start answering 911 calls

After three bolts of lightning struck and caused a fire at a row of townhomes in Broward, dispatchers weren’t able to answer the flood of 911 calls that followed.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – After three bolts of lightning struck and caused a fire at a row of townhomes in Broward, dispatchers weren’t able to answer the flood of 911 calls that followed.

Broward Sheriff’s Office personnel said dispatch did handle the 911 call needed to deploy firefighters and fire rescue personnel to the fire.

The callers on Sunday at the Players Place community in North Lauderdale didn’t know that.

The nationwide goal for the amount of time it takes an operator to pick up a 911 call is no more than 20 seconds. Tina Stennett, who was homeless because of the fire, said she decided to hang up after about a minute of hearing the phone ring.

“No one was answering,” Stennett said.

The Broward Sheriff’s Office reported another resident had already called about two minutes before Stennett and that caller got through in less than 20 seconds.

When Stennett and others called 911 to ask for help, the dispatcher was already working on getting crews out to the fire, according to BSO.

“Every 911 call deserves a prompt and appropriate response,” said Tracy Jackson, the Broward director of regional emergency services & communication.

Broward County does have a plan to deal with the ongoing shortage of dispatchers to answer all of the 911 calls. They have 90 new-hire candidates with conditional offers.

“We’re hopeful that it’ll result in more people getting into the dispatch centers and increasing the staffing of the centers,” Jackson said.

In May, Broward County commissioners voted to allocate $4 million to the Broward Sheriff’s Office communication budget after Sheriff Gregory Tony said there was a staff shortage at 911 call centers.

In March, Doreen Simac and her husband Daniel Torres told Local 10 News Reporter Roy Ramos that their 911 calls went unanswered after they were the victims of a hit-and-run crash in Hollywood.

Pembroke Park also reported having the same problems.

BSO timeline on 911 call and response on Sunday

  • 2:34 p.m.: Neighbor’s call answered in 19 seconds
  • 2:36 p.m.: Call entered as a structure fire
  • 2:36 p.m.: Tina Stennett calls 911
  • 2:37 p.m.: Units dispatched
  • 2:37 p.m.: Tina Stennett hangs up
  • 2:37 p.m.: 911 operator calls Stennett back

Watch 4 p.m. report

After three bolts of lightning struck and caused a fire at a row of townhomes in Broward, dispatchers weren’t able to answer the flood of 911 calls that followed. Officials said they did handle the 911 call needed to dispatch firefighters and fire rescue personnel.

About the Authors:

Ian Margol joined the Local 10 News team in July 2016 as a general assignment reporter. Born in Miami Beach and raised in Broward County, Ian is thrilled to be back home in South Florida.

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.