The town prepares to shift its 911 service to Sarasota County.
If only it was as easy as flipping a switch.
But the town’s switchover of its 911 dispatch service from in-house dispatchers and Manatee County 911 service to Sarasota County’s Emergency Operations Center has been more of a marathon than a sprint — a three-year marathon, to be exact.
The date of that switch hasn’t been scheduled, although Longboat Key Fire Rescue Chief Paul Dezzi and Police Chief Pete Cumming say it will happen in late February or early March at the latest — three years after the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office original offer in February 2013 to take over dispatch services.
Technology glitches, software and computer upgrades and new equipment orders for radio equipment for Longboat Key police cars and fire trucks have pushed the conversion date back. Police squad cars are also getting equipped with license plate camera recognition readers that will give police officers the ability to look at the data received from license plate tags on both ends of the Key from their cars.
“It’s a long process, and there’s a lot of detail that goes into making sure everything is working right before we make the switch officially,” Dezzi said.
Five of seven Longboat Key commissioners took Town Manager Dave Bullock and Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight up on their offer to tour the Sarasota Emergency Operations and 911 Dispatch Center on Porter Road out east Jan. 19 before the town’s 911 dispatch conversion takes place next month.
Commissioners watched 911 operators handle calls from the center and saw how the emergency operations command center operates and is activated before a hurricane or wind event like the recent tornadoes the county experienced last week.
After the conversion is complete, commissioners and the Longboat Observer will be invited back to the center to see how 911 calls from the Key are handled in east Sarasota County.
Sarasota County will dispatch both fire and police calls after the transition. Sarasota County also hopes that technology from cellular carriers will change soon to allow its equipment to determine the location from which a call is being placed. Current technology can only identify tower the phone is using to make the call. And by 2017, Longboat Key police and fire departments will be able to talk to each other over the radio on the same frequency level.
The town and its staff held several meetings with representatives from both counties before the Longboat Key Town Commission decided in March to make the switch.
Cumming supported sticking with Manatee County’s dispatch service, a move that would have allowed the department to keep its dispatch services on the Key. Cumming doesn’t believe his department can offer the same level of service if the town makes a switch to Sarasota dispatchers who know less about the geography of the island.
But Dezzi, like Bullock, supported the switch to Sarasota County.
“It’s all about better communication and quicker 911 dispatch calls,” Dezzi said.