After two fatal shootings in Ohio and Florida this weekend, questions are being asked whether dispatchers properly obtained critical information from 911 callers, and if they then relayed it to first responders. Both incidents demonstrate the importance of premise files in computer-aided dispatch (CAD) systems, and of the radio link between dispatchers and those who arrive first on-scene. In Ohio, a Cleveland dispatcher took information from a citizen that a young boy had a “pistol,” but also told the calltaker twice that, “It’s probably fake.” The dispatcher didn’t react or ask additional questions about the comment, and didn’t ask the caller to remain at the scene to point out the person. A Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association president spokesperson said the caller’s information about the pistol possibly being a replica firearm was never relayed to officers. When an officer arrived at a city recreation center, he saw the boy and confronted him. The 12 year-old reached for the pistol in his waistband, the officer shot and killed him. In Tallahassee, a man with grudge against government set fire to his house, then went to a neighbor’s house to report it. When Leon County fire and sheriff’s deputies arrived, the man opened fire with a pistol, killing a deputy and wounding another. A source has told one reporter that a Combined Dispatch Agency (CDA) calltaker entered the neighbor’s address instead of the house that was on fire. The CAD premise file for the suspect’s house contained information that he had previously threatened law enforcement, the source said, and would have alerted fire and sheriff’s deputies of the hazard. Read more about the Cleveland incident here (with logging tape). Read more about the Tallahassee incident here, and listen to the logging tape of Leon County Fire here.
With the conversion of the nation’s 911 networks from independent local and analog systems to a nationwide IP-based resource, on Friday the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) proposed two sets of rules that would formalize the copper-to-IP transition and address network vulnerabilities that create so-called “sunny day” 911 outages. The nation’s 911 networks are now largely operated by local governments using analog technical. Within the next 15 years, these systems will be converted to IP technology, and will be linked to form an advanced “next generation” network (NG911) with greater reliability and more capabilities. The FCC’s new rules focus both on large-scale outages caused by infrastructure, but also individual site outages caused by the lack of back-up battery power to a homeowner’s IP telephone set. In the first set of rules, the FCC set out principles “to ensure reliable and resilient 911 service and its continuing partnership with state and local authorities.” Specifically, they set rules to address failures leading to recent multi-state 911 outages and set “demarcation lines” of responsibility for operating and servicing IP 911 networks. In the second set of rules, the commission set requirements for 911 providers to make outage notifications and to certify their technical and operational expertise. Download (pdf) the 911 transition rules, and the rules on 911 reliability.
The family of a Denver (Colo.) woman waited patiently two years to file their lawsuit against the city, until the suspect was convicted of murder and kidnapping, and after two other high-profile response delays by police to homicides. The lawsuit filed Monday names the city, four dispatchers identified only by initials, and two police officers, and says the murder of Loretta Barela was “preventable.” She died in November 2012 at the hands of her husband, Christopher Perea, who is awaiting sentencing. According to the lawsuit filed in federal court, Barela was beaten and strangled by Perea, and ran to a neighbor’s house at about 2 a.m. asking for help. The neighbor dialed 911 and reported Barela was topless at her door, and that Perea had just dragged Barela back across the street to the couple’s home. When police didn’t immediately arrive, the neighbor dialed 911 again at 2:40 a.m. However, an officer didn’t arrive until about 3:10 a.m., and then didn’t thoroughly investigate the Barela’s house, the lawsuit states. The officer left without talking to anyone. It wasn’t until 8:16 a.m. later that morning that Perea himself dialed 911 and made admissions that he had killed his wife. He was arrested, and last May was convicted of Barela’s murder. After details of the response delay became known, police launched an internal investigation. However, the involved radio dispatcher resigned, ending any disciplinary action. The lawsuit mentions two other Denver homicides where “deficient dispatchers and dispatch procedures” were a contributing factor, including a response delay last April. Download (pdf) the lawsuit for more details.
Just two days after the nation’s wireless carriers reached an agreement with two public safety industry groups to improve their wireless 911 location technology, the Find Me 911 coalition has fired back with pointed criticism, saying they were angry over “secret” negotiations between the groups, and calling the deal “a travesty for public safety and a tragedy for consumers.” In a press release Coalition director Jamie Barnett was unusually direct—”The only thing saved by this rule is (wireless) carrier cash.” The Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO) and National Emergency Number Association (NENA) announced last Friday that the four major wireless carriers had agreed to a six-year timetable for improving locations for 911 callers. The agreement will be reported to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which last February had proposed its own rules, but also encouraged a voluntary improvement plan. In its response to the agreement, the Find Me 911 Coalition criticized the terms, saying they would delay implementation of improved technology and eliminate many of the FCC’s proposed rules. “The carriers’ wireless service is a cash cow,” Barnett said, “but this highlights their refusal to make the necessary investments in the nation’s 911 system to save lives.” read more
After eight months of meetings, debate and discussion, the nation’s wireless carriers and public safety industry groups have reached a consensus agreement to make improvements in locating cellular 911 callers that exceed earlier proposals made by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The voluntary agreements will lead to a solution for accurately locating indoor 911 callers, including their vertical location in high-rise buildings. With the increased use of cellular phones, public safety dispatchers say fewer 911 calls arrive with an accurate location, or with no caller location at all. The trend drew the attention of the FCC last year, and in February they formally proposed more strict location accuracy standards for wireless carriers, and encouraged stakeholders to jointly study the problem of wireless locating. In a statement released late Friday, the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO) and National Emergency Number Association (NENA), along with AT&T Wireless, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile all praised one another, and noted that future technology will provide public safety dispatchers with a “dispatchable” location, in some cases right to the office or desk of a caller. Specifically, within nine months the carriers will demonstrate a “pre-standards” solution, and then meet certain accuracy standards over the next five years leading to three-meter vertical 911 caller accuracy in 2019. Significantly, the groups also released a “Fact vs. Fiction” chart about improved location technology, disputing claims made over the last year by the Find Me 911 coalition, including that existing technology can accurately locate indoor caller. Last year the wireless carriers reached a similar agreement to deploy text-to-911 features on their networks, and have done so, largely before their own deadline. Download (pdf) the groups’ press release, the “Fact vs. Fiction” chart and other materials released by the groups. Also, download (pdf) APCO’s announcement of the agreement, a press release (pdf) of support from TeleCommunication Systems, Inc., and an APCO story about reaction to the agreement. Update: Less than a week after announcing the agreement, the FCC moved to expedite its 911 location improvement proposals. They formally requested comments (pdf) on the terms of the consensus plan, and whether it is a “reasonable alternative” to the FCC’s own proposals. APCO “applauded” the FCC’s action in a short statement.
For the first time in 16 years, the nation’s emergency communications plan has been updated to include current-day situations and new technology, including some methods that weren’t even invented in 2008. The new National Emergency Communications Plan (NECP) was written by the Department of Homeland Security in coordination with 350 stakeholders from all levels of government and the private sector. It focuses on three priorities, including maintaining and improving land mobile radio used by first responders, plans and preparation for the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network, and enhancing coordination among stakeholders. Find more information and the report download here.
Despite intense scrutiny by a local newspaper, the retirement of the city’s fire chief and promises by the mayor, response times for emergency medical incidents by the Los Angeles Fire Department have improved by just three seconds so far this year. But at a press conference last week, both mayor Eric Garcetti and fire chief Ralph Terrazas bragged about the numbers, saying the newly-created data was an important step to move forward, since it’s the first time the fire department has gathered and issued accurate response time data. According to the figures, both telephone call handling and dispatch times remained the same for the first nine months of 2014 compared to all of 2103—one minute and 17 seconds, and one minute 14 seconds respectively. But travel time decreased by three seconds so far in 2014 to four minutes and one second. The Los Angeles Times newspaper began writing a series of articles starting two years ago that showed response times were longer than the national standard, and that fire department officials had been using inaccurate data to claim shorter response times. At the press conference, Garcetti and Terrazas also announced a new FireStat program to gather specific and accurate data on each stage of incident handling, which will allow the department to increase accountability, improve decision-making and allocate personnel and equipment more intelligently. Read more about FireStat here, and view the new fire response statistics here, including times by fire station.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has issued an investigative report on last April’s 911 meltdown that affected 81 public safety answering points in seven states and blocked over 5,600 calls for help, saying the event was entirely preventable. “Americans rely on 911 as a reliable way to communicate in an emergency, and lapses like this cannot be permitted,” the commission wrote, noting that its was not an isolated incident and might happen again without safeguards. Comm center officials did not report any adverse consequences for the outage, but the FCC used the experience to warn that, “So-called ‘sunny day’ outages are on the rise,” because of the increased interaction of new and old 911 systems. The report was prepared by the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau (PSB). It explained that the outage occurred because of a “software coding error” at Intrado Inc.’s Colorado network center, which provides routing services for several states. “Further, inadequate alarm management resulted in significant delays in determining the software fault and restoring 911 service to full functionality,” the FCC said. Intrado operates a redundant hub in Florida “but because the malfunction was not detected promptly and mitigation actions were not efficiently developed,” Intrado didn’t transfer 911 routing services for six hours. Download (pdf) the full report here. details
With staffing hovering at about 70 percent of authorized strength, the Oakland Police Department says it will take several years to complete a plan to begin directly answering its own cellular 911 calls, instead of routing them through the regional California Highway Patrol (CHP) comm center. Almost every other city within the San Francisco area has already made the programming changes necessary to receive 911 calls received on cellular towers within their jurisdiction, which reduces call-handling times. But Oakland has deliberately lagged in taking the calls, citing their understaffing problem which has been caused by on-going budget problems. Police officials claim that in Sept. 2014 it took an average of 20 to 30 seconds for a 911 caller to reach an OPD dispatcher, even if the call was routed through the CHP’s regional comm center. However, the CHP center is often overwhelmed by cellular 911 calls and takes longer to answer and transfer local jurisdiction reports of incidents. A comm center supervisor says nine new dispatchers were hired last December, but that four have quit—three decided to pursue a different line of work and one left for a higher-paying job. Read more about the staffing situation here.
The family of a Utah man who was fatally shot by police last month say a 911 logging tape supports their view that police overreacted to the situation. They admit that Darrien, Hunt, 22, was carrying a samurai sword, but said he wasn’t a threat to anyone because the sword was a replica souvenir that didn’t have a sharp edge. A citizen dialed 911 at 9:45 a.m. to report that Hunt was carrying the sword near a strip mall, although the caller didn’t say—and the dispatcher didn’t ask—if he was threatening anyone, waving the sword or acting aggressively. A Saratoga Springs police spokesperson said two officers responded to a “suspicious person” incident, confronted Hunt, and that he “lunged” at them. The officers fired their handguns at Hunt, who then began running away. The officers continued shooting, and Hunt collapsed and died about 200 yards away. Police released the three-minute 911 logging tape last week. On the tape the dispatcher answered, and then listened as the caller described the location and then explain, “But he was walking with a samurai sword.” Immediately after that, the sounds of loud keyboard typing are audible on the tape, and the dispatcher begins asking a long series of specific questions about the suspect’s description. The dispatcher never asked about the suspect’s posture, interactions with other pedestrians or other behavior. She also did not keep the caller on the line as the officers responded, but instead told him, “We’ll go ahead and get this out to an officer.” Sartoga Springs Police Chief Andrew Burton said the dispatcher felt that the simple presence of such an unusual weapon was sufficient to classify the incident as “suspicious,” and to dispatch officers to investigate. The dispatcher then ended the call. Read more about the incident here, and listen to the 911 call here.
The families of two St. Louis (Mo.) murder victims have filed a state lawsuit against the city’s police department and its dispatchers alleging that the deaths last July could have been prevented if officers had responded promptly and to the correct location. Instead, the lawsuit says officers arrived on-scene 40 minutes after one victim dialed 911 for help and were at the wrong location. As the officers searched for the location of the 911 call, the lawsuit says they heard gunshots one block away and arrived to find both victims had been fatally shot. Police say Tony Jordan Jr. intervened in a dispute between Jessica Thompson and Adrian Houston, after which Houston left. Jordan Jr. called police and reported the incident. However, by the time police arrived, Houston had returned with a handgun and shot both Jordan Jr. and Thompson. “The dispatcher used care commensurate with a request to retrieve a cat from a tree,” the lawsuit states sarcastically, and delayed the response to the incident. When officers were dispatched, it was to an erroneous address, “being an address which did not exist.” The lawsuit claims the dispatcher(s), “failed to properly and with deliberate indifference provide adequate police services” that caused the deaths of Jordan Jr. and Thompson. Read more about the incident here, and download (pdf) the full lawsuit here.
A Florida man with a history of violence dialed 911 earlier this week to make a startling admission: he had shot and killed his adult daughter and her six young children. His words were so unexpected that on the logging tape of the 911 call, the Gilchrist County 911 dispatcher is heard whispering to a colleague, “I need help.” In the two-minute call, Don Spirit, 51, told the dispatcher, “I just shot my daughter and shot all my grandkids. And I’ll be sitting on my step and when you get here I’m going to shoot myself.” Spirit would not answer the calltaker’s questions, saying only, “I don’t want to hear it, ma’am, you don’t need to know every f….ing thing.” Spirit also refused to stay on the line as deputies responded. “No, I’m not that, I’ll wait for them to get here. When they get here I’m going to shoot myself on my back step. Alls I’m doing is waiting for them.” He then hung up. An arriving deputy found Spirit and the six others dead. Read more about the incident here, and listen to the 911 call here.
Despite action by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to improve cellular 911 call location accuracy standards, an industry special interest group continues to promote its members’ technology, most recently with a press release claiming that an average of three people die each day in California because of missing or delayed 911 ALI data. The FindMe 911 Coalition claims that 1,227 lives could be saved each year in the state, “if cell phone carriers had to quickly share accurate location data for 9-1-1 callers with emergency responders.” But the claim rests on a chain of survey data, along with conclusions and assumptions about how and why 911 location information is being handled. The Find Me 911 coalition bills itself as a grassroots movement, but is financially backed by TruePosition Inc., a company that provides wireless location technology. TruePosition is lobbying Congress and the FCC to improve 911 call location accuracy, which could benefit itself and other companies who offer alternate technologies for locating cellular phones. In a press release (pdf) posted Monday, the coalition urged the FCC to “move quickly to adopt the indoor location standards” that the commission proposed last February. In fact, there’s no evidence the FCC will not pass the proposed regulations, probably with some revisions, although the final rules could take several more months to finalize. details
A federal court judge has ruled that a lawsuit against the city of West Haven (Conn.) can go forward, saying that there are “genuine issues of fact” on whether a police officer and dispatcher discriminated against a woman who was murdered by her husband in 2011. However, U.S. District Court judge Jeffrey Meyer dismissed a claim against a second West Haven dispatcher, saying there was no evidence the dispatcher knew the victim was Turkish. According to the lawsuit filed three years ago, Shengyl Rasim had several contacts with police about her estranged husband, Selami Ozdemir, who would come to her residence and threaten her. Officers arrested the husband and issued a protective order. However, on the night in question Ozdemir bailed out and returned to Rasim’s house with a gun, fatally shot her and then killed himself. details
Nearly every conceivable dispatch problem occurred after an Iowa woman dialed 911 when her husband collapsed, ending with a 46-minute response time for an ambulance and the death of her husband. The local fire chief said it was unusual situation, but it could occur again given the low staffing and volunteer departments in rural Iowa that prevents 24-hour emergency coverage. The chief also admitted that some technical glitches also prevented firefighters from receiving dispatch information after the 911 call. Myrna Hunt dialed 911 last December when she discovered her husband was unconscious. Her call went to the Polk County sheriff’s comm center, where a dispatcher mistaken evaluated the call as a fall victim. The dispatcher paged out the local volunteer fire department, but two technical problems prevented them from receiving two broadcasts. After Hunt called back, a third page went out, and a volunteer firefighter called the dispatcher and asked for the next-due ambulance to be dispatched. However, that agency doesn’t staff on the weekends, and so the third-due ambulance was called, responding from 25 miles away. Mr. Hunt suffered a cardiac arrest in the ambulance and later died. Read more about the incident here.