Push to rename streets to avoid 911 confusion
Last Modified: Tuesday, February 10, 2009 at 1:22 a.m.
Public safety officials in Sarasota County are pushing for a law to change similar street names, potentially reducing 911 mistakes like one last month, when an ambulance was dispatched to the wrong address for a baby in distress.
Paramedics were sent 30 miles from the correct Sarasota location after the child’s panicked mother told a 911 worker she lived on Highland Avenue instead of Highland Street.
The error delayed an ambulance by 12 minutes and 3-month-old Nelson Alexander Booth Almeida died. A Sheriff’s Office report on the case is expected this week.
Many communities have renamed streets with nearly identical names, including Charlotte County, which started changing scores of street names in the 1980s.
"When they’re calling 911 a lot of times somebody’s not going to know the difference between Peach Tree Boulevard, Peach Tree Avenue or Peach Tree Lane," said Dennis Murphy, who helped run Charlotte’s readdressing program. "It’s just Peach Tree to them."
Changing street names can be controversial, and Sarasota County’s ordinance has been years in the making. Many people oppose name changes because of the hassle and neighborhood opposition eventually scuttled Charlotte’s program.
But some community leaders in Sarasota County firmly support changes.
"We are a joint 911 service," said North Port City Commissioner David Garofalo, a Pasco County firefighter. "Whoever is getting the 911 call, there should be no names even close. Highland Avenue and Highland Street is the same to me, buddy. Get rid of one already."
Sarasota County public safety officials have long known that similar addresses are a 911 problem. Records show that emergency workers have been sent to the wrong locations several times.
"All addressing should be controlled by public safety," Manatee County Public Safety Director Bill Hutchison said. "What’s more important?"
Main Street, Grove Street and Bay Street all have duplicates in Sarasota County. The confusing addresses multiply when suffix variations are added to the mix.
There is a Bay Drive in Englewood, a Bay Road in Sarasota and a Bay Street in Venice.
Sarasota County’s 911 center handles every emergency call in the county, whether the caller is in North Port or Newtown.
If a caller simply says "500 Main Street" the 911 computer will automatically prompt the call taker to ask for clarification between Venice or Sarasota.
There are no prompts when addresses are similar but not exactly the same.
The addressing ordinance would let Sarasota County change any address for public safety.
It is unclear how many street names might need to be changed in Sarasota County, but officials estimate it would take about 10 years to complete the program. An appeals board would handle complaints.
Even if Sarasota County eliminates every similar street name, there still could be confusion unless the cities of Venice, North Port and Sarasota adopt a readdressing ordinance. Highland Street, for example, where Almeida died, is in the city of Sarasota. Highland Avenue is in unincorporated Sarasota County.
The proposed Sarasota County ordinance will be considered in a hearing March 23