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Editorial: Questions about 911 training demand answers

A Nassau County 911 call center where operators

A Nassau County 911 call center where operators are manning call taking consoles in Mineola. (March 15, 2010) Credit: Howard Schnapp

Dispatchers at 911 call centers play a huge role in the outcome of emergencies. They're the main connection between people in a crisis and the professionals responding to them.

Now a lawsuit by the Civil Service Employees Association alleges that Nassau County's 911 operators aren't getting required training in advanced emergency dispatching procedures, even though state money was allocated. And the conflict looks even more serious in light of the accidental fatal shooting of a Hofstra student by a Nassau cop on May 17, when the operator may not have made it clear the officer was responding to a hostage situation.

Nassau is a Public Safety Answering Point, a designation from the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services given to jurisdictions equipped to respond to 911 calls coming in by cellphone. That designation has come with $3.4 million in state money since 2008, but also with a requirement that some of it be used to give each operator 21 hours of classroom training. The suit on behalf of Nassau's 150 operators says they did not get the training and were forced to sign time sheets claiming they did.

The county attorney says an internal review is underway. The union is not asking for money or damages, merely for the training -- which seems an unlikely demand to press if members already received it. Also an issue: Where did the money go, if not to such classes?

Well-trained emergency operators are crucial. So are clear answers about the use of resources meant to guarantee safety and security. Let's hope residents are supplied with both.