Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Columbia County 911, The Cover-up?: "Every system worked"-"I was told everything was down"

The 911 Call Center Working Group. City Manager Johnson, County Manager Williams and other officials were no shows, while Sheriff Hunter just slipped in under the wire w/2 minutes to go.

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – At 9 am yesterday, the Columbia County 911 working group met at the County's Emergency Operations Center. Last Thursday, the County's main emergency communications tower was hit by lightning, which knocked out communications. During yesterday's 32 minute meeting, the word lightning was never mentioned. One would have barely known there was any trouble at all. The word was this meeting was going to be a fact finding meeting attended by the County and City leadership. In the land of the good ole boys, things don't work like that.

Yesterday's 911 working group was just a regular meeting. The City and the County had representatives from their Fire Departments, IT departments, the Sheriff's Office, and County Emergency Management. Lifeguard Ambulance also showed up. The County's Public Information Officer was not there. He was not invited.

Safety Div Chief, David Kraus.

The County's new Safety Division Chief, David Kraus, opened the meeting. "I'm David Kraus and I'm with the Safety Division. I appreciate everything everyone did last week."

Mr. Kraus did not mention what anyone did.

After the introductions, the 911 Communications Director, Sandy Morgan, formally known as Sandy Waschek, took two minutes to explain that she had a conversation with AT&T regarding the events of last weeek.

Ms. Morgan told the group, "My representative at AT&T said our 911 trunks were only down at the least 15 seconds and the most six minutes. He said during that time we didn't miss any calls."

Safety Division Manger Kraus announced that he had met with the City Manager and is going to be meeting with the City IT and Fire Department when the schedule permits.

It was 2 minutes and 32 seconds into the meeting. The communication discussion of last week's events was over.

Mr. Kraus continued, "Now we are going back to our agenda."

911 Call Center Director Sandy Morgan. She spoke with AT&T.

Wait: What happened to the phone calls?

911 Communications Director Morgan had something else to add. "I want to go back to 911. If the 911 line goes down it rolls to our admin line. The only time it would not roll is if we completely lost the heart beat."

Mr. Kraus, "I've heard two different stories. I just want to be sure. Somebody was saying something different last week."

City IT Director Zack Mears, "We could plan a test if that is something you are interested in."

Mr. Kraus, "I like testing things, absolutely. I just want to make sure that everybody understood every system worked. Last week some people had different opinions on that."

Assistant Chief Armajo questioned the lack of SOPs.

A conversation ensued about a phone call that purportedly came into County dispatch. County Fire Chief Boozer used his cell phone to notify Assistant City Fire Chief, Frank Armajo.

Assistant Chief Armajo, "We paged it out on City Fire. That's what I was supposed to do – correct?" The City Fire to which Chief Armajo referred was the City's backup communications center.

911 Communications Director Morgan, "That's fine if that's what you wanted to do."

Lake City Fire Chief Tunsil did not look convinced.

Asst. Chief Armajo, "I thought I had to. I was told communications, radios and phones were down... I took it upon myself that's what I needed to do because I was told that everything was down. I thought that was part of the plan."

The County's radio and tower expert, Doug Brown, without mentioning the lightning strike or any of the events thanked everybody for chipping in last Thursday, "As you all can tell, there is a lot of work that needed to be done," he said.

Everyone had their say:  No SOP, "We just know what to do"

Tower and radio expert Doug Brown wasn't talking

James Brinkley, the Operations Manager for Lifeguard, the ambulance company that pays no rent and leases its ambulances from the County for a dollar, told the group, "We never saw any interruption of service; citizens knew they were safe."

Assistant City Fire Chief, Frank Armjo said, "There are no procedures in place, no SOP (standard operating procedure) that defines what goes on when the system or parts of the 911 system go down."

911 Communications Director Morgan responded, "I think that when things happen we just know automatically what to do. We know what needs to be done."

County Assist Chief Crawford and GIS man Ron Croft deadpanned it.

The others at the table made no remarks, as if they knew better, or opined about the way everyone worked together. No one mentioned any significant details about what went on last week.

Sheriff Hunter – A last minute appearance

Twenty nine minutes and six seconds into the meeting, with it just about to end, Columbia County Sheriff Mark Hunter made an appearance. It is not clear if he had gotten the word that the meeting was about to adjourn. He appears the same way at the County Commission meetings – when it is safe. All of the Sheriff's communications go through the 911 call center.

Sheriff Mark Hunter showed up with a prepared statement.

In what appeared to be a prepared statement, Sheriff Hunter told the group: I didn't hear the assessment. The system worked with what we had set up. The plant flickered, but we never lost the call taking ability for the citizens and identified some areas that we can definitely work on and improve in the future. These things are going to happen. Hopefully we will make it better as we progress down the road.


As usual, everyone will now be meeting behind closed doors. The "things" that the Sheriff mentioned will be swept under the rug.

As one senior Columbia County Official told the Observer, "It's Columbia County."

The legend continues.

Comments  (to add a comment go here)

On June 20, 2012, citizen49a of Columbia County wrote:

Assistant City Fire Chief, Frank Armajo said, "There are no procedures in place, no SOP (standard operating procedure) that defines what goes on when the system or parts of the 911 system go down."

911 Communications Director Morgan responded, "I think that when things happen we just know automatically what to do. We know what needs to be done."

Come on. Are you sure that you didn't make that part up, because it sounds like an excerpt from the script of some bad sitcom television show about a small corrupt southern town.  It would all be beyond belief if I hadn't witnessed similar "meetings" many times. What a complete and total waste of taxpayer money, and absolute failure to perform anything even approaching competent provision of emergency services for the people of this county.  If not for the fact that there is a very good chance that one day these fools will cause lives to be lost, this would all be hilariously funny.


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