As public concern increases over the presence of the Ebola virus within the United States and the potential for an outbreak, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have posted information specifically for public safety communications center to handle public inquiries and handle at-risk patients reported via 911. Ebola is an often-fatal disease in West African countries, but can be carried to other locations by infected persons. The CDC says comm centers may modify their usual questioning procedures or protocols to include Ebola screening, and to promptly inform first-responders of a potentially-infected patient. The initial screening factors are a fever over 101.5 degrees, and if there has been contact with an Ebola-infected person. Thirdly, has the patient lived in or traveled to an Ebola outbreak country? First-responders should wear personal protective equipment, isolate the patient, and transfer the patient to a medical facility that has the appropriate isolation facilities. Read the entire set of procedures and handling information here.
The La Mesa (Calif.) police chief has decided that one of his dispatchers will not face discipline for posting racially-oriented accusations in comments to a crime news story, saying they were made off-duty and are legally protected free speech. Chief Ed Aceves has made no public comments about the posting by Gaby Bledsoe Willis, but he did write an email to police employees outlining what occurred, and advised them to be more tolerant and guard their privacy. “Any comments made in your personal life, whether blogging or posted on social media sites, can be used in a negative manner because you are a police employee,” the chief wrote. Willis’ comment was made in response to a story last July that police were seeking a murder suspect, described as wearing a green shirt and “sagging pants.” In her comment, Willis wrote, “Description of the suspect says it all — useless black gang member.” When contacted by a reporter about his disposition of the incident, Aceves said, “Neither myself nor the employee are going to talk about this. It’s already been handled. It’s been dealt with.” View the comment here, and read more about the situation here.
Two Little Rock (Ark.) area men have filed a lawsuit claiming the city’s policy of encrypting its police radio channels violates the state’s public records laws. The lawsuit also names North Little Rock, and both agencies switched on encryption in the past two months, saying criminals were eavesdropping on sensitive communications, and that it was necessary to protect confidential citizen information. Brandon and Jeremy Mullens filed the lawsuit in Pulaski County court after the cities declined to provide them access to the radio channels. Both say they listen to radio scanners to help them stay informed of incidents in the county. Little Rock city attorney Tom Carpenter told a reporter that allowing access to encrypted communications would put the city at risk of breaking several privacy laws, although such lawsuits have never surfaced in the news. Read more about the lawsuit here. video
The family of a Dallas (Tex.) woman murdered in 2012 has added a cellular carrier and smartphone manufacturer to their lawsuit against the city alleging dispatcher and police officer mistakes, and that the cellular network inaccurately reported the victim’s location when she dialed 911. The claims against T-Mobile and Samsung boil down to one fact—their technology did not locate victim Deanna Cook as she was being attacked by her ex-husband. She managed to dial 911 before she died, but the call’s ALI wasn’t sufficiently accurate to pinpoint her location. A police investigation also found that officers were delayed in arriving after they were dispatched, and once in the neighborhood they did not sufficiently search for Cook. The officers left the scene, and Cook wasn’t located until her family investigated her disappearance two days later. The family filed a lawsuit in Sept. 2012, but now make new claims against Samsung and T-Mobile. Specifically, the lawsuit states both companies’ network technology was defectively designed, failed to provide a physical address for 911 callers, didn’t use state-of-the-art technology and was insufficiently engineered. The lawsuit also renews the original complaints that the Dallas comm center was understaffed by 30 percent, dispatchers were improperly trained, and that police policies and procedures for handling domestic violence incidents was flawed. Read more about the original lawsuit, and about the original incident. Download (pdf) the new, amended lawsuit complaint that includes the additional defendants.
A St. Louis (Mo.) dispatcher has been suspended with pay after entering a mistaken address into the computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system, leading officers blocks away from where two people were shot and killed. A police spokesperson said it was “a little presumptuous” to say that police could have prevented the July 9th murders with a prompt response. But in a statement the chief did confirm, “The department expects precision and diligence when answering and dispatching 911 calls, and any accusations of employee misconduct are taken very seriously.” According to police, a woman was with a male friend inside her apartment, when her boyfriend arrived. The boyfriend assaulted the woman, but a groundskeeper for the apartment building intervened, and the boyfriend left. Someone dialed 911 and spoke to the 911 calltaker, who entered an wrong address. Officers were dispatched, and while they were investigating at the other location, the boyfriend returned and fatally shot the woman and male friend. The dispatcher reporting to the comm center, the spokesman said, but is not handling 911 calls during an investigation. Read more about the incident here.
Following up on voluntary commitments by four wireless carrier to provide text-to-911 service by last May, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) this morning established its own requirements for the service: all carriers and certain IP-based application providers must be prepared to implement text-to-911 by year’s end. After that deadline, 911 public safety answering points (PSAP) may begin requesting the service, and it must then be provided within six months. The FCC also issued a third request for comments on future text-to-911 capabilities, including how a texter’s location might be transmitted and how roaming might be accomplished. The new rules were opposed by the cellular industry, and small carriers in particular. They said preparing for text-to-911 would be expensive, and undermine carriers’ voluntary efforts. There was speculation if the FCC would extend text-to-911 to smartphone applications such as Apple’s iMessage–they did. However, the rules don’t cover some other smartphone applications, and applies to iMessage only when linked by cellular and not Wi-Fi, causing some FCC commissioners to vote against certain parts of the new rules. The National Emergency Number Association (NENA) issued a statement applauding the new rules. The group helped broker the agreement by AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile to voluntarily provide the service. Download the FCC commissioner statements here, and the full Report and Order here.
A team of city investigators has barely started examining 80,000 pages of documents related to New York City’s public safety communications center upgrade project, but they have already reached one conclusion—“It is clear that there has been significant mismanagement.” The Emergency Communications Transformation Project (ECTP) began in 2009 with the goal of consolidating the city’s separate public safety dispatching operations into a single facility, with unified calltaking. The project has sputtered on for several years until last May, when mayor Bill de Blasio halted major work on the project after problems and dispatcher mistakes. On Wednesday the city’s Department of Investigations (DOI) issued their preliminary report on their audit, including some recommendations. The report said that so far, no “overt” examples of fraud have been found. But the auditors cautioned, “It is certainly possible that we will uncover illegal activity.” The report said the project has suffered with insufficiently clear lines of authority and “ineffective” guidance. Specifically, the original plan was to have a single computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system for the both police and fire departments, but that plan somehow shifted to allow each department to have its own CAD system. The report also said the project suffered from “a lack of preliminary advanced planning with respect to Program specifications and objectives,” and has never had an integrity monitor. The DOI said a single person should be appointed by the mayor to make executive decisions for the project, and that project objectives be more well-defined. Download (pdf) the report here.
A Tallahassee (Fla.) city commissioner is calling for an audit of the recently-formed city-county public safety communications center after a dispatcher’s mistake created a 10-minute delay in responding to a homicide, and an even longer delay in the arrival of an ambulance. Commissioner Scott Maddox says he wants to know response times, any outages and if policies and procedures are appropriate. The comm center opened in Sept. 2013 to bring Tallahassee and Leon County public safety dispatching under one team of dispatchers. Prominent Florida State University professor Dan Markel was found dead in his garage from a gunshot wound after a neighbor dialed 911 for help. According to police the neighbor heard noises, noticed Markel’s car in the garage, and walked over to investigate. He noticed Markel slumped in the car, dialed 911 and told an unnamed calltaker, “I don’t know if somebody tried to shoot him or if he shot himself, or what…I don’t know.” On the logging tape of the 12-minute call, the neighbor also said the victim is “spattered,” and, “He has blood all over his head.” In a memo to city officials, Timothy Lee, director of the Consolidated Dispatch Agency (CDA), wrote that the dispatcher, “did not hear the caller reference a gunshot wound.” As a result, the calltaker assigned the incident a lower priority code. Police arrived 15 minutes after the call, and an ambulance arrived four minutes later. Markel was mortally wounded and probably would not have survived with a quicker response, officials say. Read more about the incident here.
The California Highway Patrol (CHP) has announced an ambitious plan to seek accreditation for all 24 of its communications centers in the state, and will allow public comments on the process and its services next month. The agency made the announcement yesterday, and explained that accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, Inc. (CALEA) is voluntary, “yet (is) a highly prized recognition of public safety professional excellence.” The CHP itself was re-accredited in 2013, and last year its training academy was the first state center to become accredited. The CHP operates 24 comm centers of all sizes across the state, including two large centers that cover the expansive metro Los Angeles and San Francisco areas, staffed with over 150 personnel each. Other smaller centers serve rural and isolated areas and work very closely with local towns and county sheriffs to provide basic law enforcement services. In a statement, CHP commissioner Joe Farrow said, “The communication centers are the front lines of public safety and service.” He added, “The accreditation process for our communications unit is another excellent opportunity for the public to provide feedback about our operations as we continue to promote transparency and accountability while striving to improve our organization.” The accreditation process typically takes many months, and includes a review of policies and procedures by an outside panel. The CHP did not say when accreditation will be completed.
The description of a session on 911 at this year’s annual DEF CON 22 hacker conference in Las Vegas (Nev.) looks ominous, but the presenters’ backgrounds and the evolution of the conference indicates that no one is trying to take down the nation’s 911 networks. The computer security conference begins August 7th and hosts over 12,000 people from all levels of government and the private-sector, along with elements of the computer hacking and cracking community. The 911 session is titled, “Hacking 911: Adventures in Disruption, Destruction, and Death,” and is being hosted by two medical doctors and a senior manager from a major computer consulting firm. The session description teases, “Ever wonder what you would do if the people you needed most on the worst day of your entire life just weren’t there?” It then goes on to say the presenters will, “review the archaic nature of the 911 dispatch system and its failure to evolve with a cellular world…how the mischief of swatting and phreaking can quickly transform into the mayhem of cyberwarfare, and the medical devastation that arises in a world without 911.” Significantly, the description also says, “Addressing these problems is a Herculean task but the alternative is a system susceptible to total ownage at the worst possible time.” DEF CON began in 1993, and over the years has been greeted by suspicious government agencies with surveillance and arrests. However, the conference now includes government and corporate employees, private security researchers, and journalists, but with a sprinkling of the original hacker attendees. Read full information about the session here. Update: Christian Dameff and Jeff Tully, the presenters of the session, talked to a Wired reporter about their 911 network findings, which have all been documented within the industry for years.
The murder of a 67 year-old woman this month in Jackson (Miss.) created immediate anguish among the victim’s family, but the community became outraged after police released the victim’s 911 call and learned how police responded. Ruth Harrion was beaten, strangled and shot, and her neck was broken. She was then dragged into the back yard of her home by one or more suspects. Police say they are still looking for suspects that were seen running from the property at 3:23 a.m.. At first the murder appeared routine. But when police released the 911 logging tape, it revealed some startling mistakes. First, the tape showed the calltaker uttered just 11 words during the 13-second call, failing to obtain any details or to keep Harrion on the line. Second, two officers arrived on-scene within eight minutes, and knocked on the front dor. But they apparently failed to investigate or sufficiently search the property, and did not notice the house had been broken into, or find Harrion’s body. It wasn’t until 1 p.m. the same day that family members found her body when she failed to answer the front door. As the community outrage grew, police chief Lindsay Horton retired one week after the incident. In prior press conferences, he admitted officers “could have done a better job.” He had promised a thorough investigation of the unnamed calltaker’s handling of the 911 call. Read more about the situation. call transcript
A former Philadelphia police dispatcher has pleaded guilty to several federal charges related to feeding information to private tow truck companies, and now faces up to 35 years in prison. Dorian Parsley, 44, of Philadelphia, appeared in court yesterday and admitted to charges of conspiracy, solicitation of a bribe, and honest services fraud. According to the federal indictment, between February 2011 and December 2013 Parsley provided tow truck operators with the locations of auto accidents and police squad cars, and vehicle registration information in exchange for cash payments. According to the U.S. Attorney, “She typically received $100 to $200 per week for the information,” totaling at least $35,400. According to court documents, Parsley used her personal cell phone to surreptitiously text the information to those tow truck operators. A tow company employee, William Cheeseman, also pleaded guilty yesterday to one count of bribery for paying Parsley $9,000 for information on accident locations. The U.S. Attorney says Parsley faces up to 35 years in prison, three years of supervised release, a $750,000 fine, and a $300 special assessment. Parsley will appear in court on October 21, 2014 for sentencing.
A series of critical news stories about Motorola’s sales techniques for public safety radio systems has caught the eye of the U.S. Congress, which has officially asked for answers about how federal grant money has been awarded to the company. Reporters from the McClatchy news group have been documenting how Motorola gains millions of dollars in contracts through the use of proprietary electronics that locks out competitors’ bids, close relationships with government officials, and add-on sales that circumvent competitive bidding requirements. After reading the stories, last week U.S. House Rep. Henry Waxman, Diana DeGette and Anna Eshoo wrote a three-page letter to the Department of Homeland Ssecurity asking the agency to review bids involving Motorola and possibly tighten up bid procedures. The McClatchy stories started last March with one that detailed how Motorola “spreads its money and influence far and wide.” The company donated $26 million over six years to nonprofit organizations formed by law enforcement and firefighting interests, McClatchy said. Motorola responded to the McClatchy stories in April, saying, “It is very disturbing that a news organization would cast suspicion of any Motorola contract with a government entity that did not fit a generic, competitive-bid model.” McClatchy published a story about the response, but also raised additional questions about Motorola contracts. Then last month McClatchy published a very long story about how Motorola captured several big contracts financed in-part by federal grants, using Washington lobbyists to “open the door.” As a result of that story, the three members of Congress are now asking the DHS’ Inspector General to examine several grant projects for compliance issues, provide a list of grant recipients and if their projects were competitively bid, and if DHS policies should be revised to help deter proprietary equipment purchases. Update: Radio manufacturer Relm is formally protesting a “infinite delivery” contract Motorola has with the federal government to supply radios to the U.S. Dept. of Justice.
When a man dialed 911 last Saturday from a Pasadena (S. Calif.) home, it was chance that connected him to 7-year veteran dispatcher Diane Marin, who then spent 20 minutes listening to his confession of murder, and convincing the man to safely surrendering. Officers say they found three adult victims at the home, and are working to confirm if the incident involved domestic violence. Marin appeared at a press conference today and recalled talking to John I. Smith, 44. “My main concern was the safety of the officers and anyone out on the street,” she told reporters. “I was concerned that this person still had weapons. I was concerned about what they were planning to do to themselves and to the officers.” In fact, officers say Smith had three firearms and 90 rounds of ammunition. He had already fired over 40 rounds from an assault rifle at the victims and arriving police officers. Read more about the incident and press conference here. video report
The Find Me 911 Coalition has posted 911 call data from the District of Columbia showing that at best, about 25 percent of wireless 911 calls handled by dispatchers are accompanied by Phase II location data. The coalition uses the data to declare a “public safety crisis” in the District, and to again urge the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to pass regulations that would no doubt improve 911 location reporting, but also benefit the founding corporate members of the coalition, namely TruePosition. While there are many things in crisis within the District, 911 operations isn’t one of them. The city’s Office of Unified Communications (OUC) has had its troubles since it combined police, fire and EMS dispatching back in 2006. But its operations are running much more smoothly in recent years. That leaves some questions about the coalition’s claims of a “crisis.” read more