- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 30, 2001

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — The union representing Anne Arundel County, Md. 911 dispatchers said Tuesday that two suspended emergency operators are being made scapegoats for problems with the county's emergency system.
The county announced last week that the operators would be fired after police said they mishandled a 911 call about the fatal carjacking of a Glen Burnie pharmacist.
They were suspended without pay pending a meeting yesterday with Deputy Chief Emerson Davis, who will determine if they will be fired. The employees are not being identified by the county. One is a 24-year veteran, one an eight-year veteran.
Police have faulted the two for failing to relay information from the Aug. 8 call to officers, who might have been able to intervene before Yvette A. Beakes, 26, was killed.
Police said the emergency call from a witness to the carjacking could have been critical in preventing the killing. They believe the attackers staged an accident to lure Miss Beakes from her car, then kidnapped her, drove around for several hours and used her ATM card to get money before killing her.
Four suspects, all male, have been charged with first-degree murder in Miss Beakes' death.
Mike Akers, acting local president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said the accused employees' jobs aren't the only ones at stake.
"There are 50 other people in that center afraid this is going to happened to them tomorrow," Mr. Akers said. "Overworked, exhausted personnel and aging equipment are a recipe for disaster, no question."
Mr. Akers and other union leaders said the county uses an antiquated 911 system, doesn't have enough personnel to operate it and doesn't adequately train the staff.
But Capt. Cathy Kurnas, who manages the 911 center, said human error was to blame, not computer, training or staffing problems.
"This wasn't a computer glitch," Miss Kurnas said. "The people here are trained professionals."
She said 911 callers have criticized emergency operators in recent weeks with remarks like, "Are you really going to dispatch this?" The center also has received a death threat.
County police are reviewing training and operating procedures, and officials have acknowledged a staff shortage.
But Miss Kurnas said operators are asked to volunteer for overtime to fill openings and are sometimes drafted. She said the 12-year-old computer system has been updated with new software and hardware.
Workers in the 911 center are required to take three weeks of classroom training in addition to on-the-job training, Miss Kurnas said. Call takers are trained from 160 hours to 200 hours, and dispatchers receive 400 hours to 600 hours of training, she said.
"They slowly go from being trained to being on their own," Miss Kurnas said. "It's not like today you're training, tomorrow, you're on your own."


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