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Dispatchers at the Valley Emergency Communications Center (Utah) were answering 911 calls from a unregistered cellular phone every 10 seconds or, tallying over 4,000 in one week last month. The heavy call load tied up their 911 lines and diverted them from promptly handling other emergency calls. They enlisted the police to track down the offender, hoping to stop the calls and send the person to jail. But then, the situation quickly turned. Police traced the calls to a cell phone being used by a man with a mental disability, who was using the phone to play music on the deactivated handset. Somehow, as he listened, the man repeatedly dialed 911. Hearing that story, the dispatchers quickly raised money to buy the man an iPod and a $100 iTunes gift card so he could keep listening to his music, but without the chance to misdial 911. Read more here and here.

Previous medical studies have shown that Latino cardiac arrest victims are 30 percent less likely than whites to have bystander CPR performed on them, and now a new study confirms the actual barriers that prevent bystanders from learning CPR, dialing 911 when an incident occurs, and providing CPR to victims. According to the study in Denver (Colo.), a major factor is “language barrier,” with most study participants believing they were unlikely to have a competent interpreter answer their 911 call. Other factors found by a team from the University of Colorado School of Medicine include a distrust of law enforcement,  fear of financial costs and a low incidence of proper training. Bystander CPR has long been proven to increase survivability, in some cases up to three times the rate as with no CPR. The study found six key barriers: fear of becoming involved because of distrust of law enforcement, financial, immigration status, lack of recognition of cardiac arrest event, language, and violence. In addition, seven cultural barriers were identified: age, sex, immigration status, language, racism, strangers, and fear of touching someone. Participants in the study suggested that increasing the availability of tailored education in Spanish, increasing the number of bilingual 911 dispatchers, and policy-level changes, including CPR as a requirement for graduation and strengthening Good Samaritan laws, may serve as potential facilitators in increasing the provision of bystander CPR. details

A five-month investigation into a series of telephone calls to universities and individuals reporting hostages, kidnappings and planted bombs has resulted in the arrest of a Connecticut man on federal charges that could land him in prison time for decades. The complex investigation by the FBI and local law enforcement agencies involved tracing Skype telephone calls, collecting Tweets from several accounts and identify their authors, interviewing witnesses and connecting scores of “dots” to eventually point the finger at one suspect. The SWATing calls were part of an on-going series conducted by separate people and groups around the United States, and usually linked to on-line gaming, jealousy, revenge or just plain fun. In this case, the FBI arrested Matthew Tollis, 21, and jailed him on charges of conspiracy, aiding and abetting to convey false information, and making bomb threats. At least five other suspects have been identified, the U.S. Attorney says, and the investigation into their involvement is on-going. According to an arrest affidavit, Tollis was present and assisted in making a bomb threat to the University of Connecticut. In interview, the FBI said Tollis admitted his involvement, and claimed he participated because he was bullied and “doxed,” the latter the process of having all your personal information posted on-line for others to view and use in pranks and crimes. Tollis posted $100,000 bail secured by his parents home, surrendered his passport, and is wearing an ankle bracelet to monitor his location. He is also prohibited from accessing the Internet and making contact with his co-conspirators. Download (pdf) the full set of charging documents here., and the FBI press release. Separately, police in Ohio are investigating a series of SWATing incidents last September that sent heavily-armed police to a residence in response to a telephone call reporting an armed kidnapper who had a bomb.

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Orange County (Calif.) Fire Authority dispatcher David Paschke fielded a 911 call from the sister of a woman who was choking on a marshmallow. He quickly calmed the caller down, gave her Heimlich maneuver instructions, and the woman began breathing again. Read more about the incident here.

In one of the most serious disciplinary actions against dispatchers in recent history, the Leon County (Fla.) Joint Dispatch Agency (CDA) has fired three long-time employees who failed to broadcast premise alert information that warned a resident intended to “shoot any law enforcement” who came to his house. Officials said the premise alert had been entered just two weeks earlier, but all three dispatchers either failed to notice it or didn’t broadcast it. Last November that resident set fire to his own home and ran to a neighbor’s house to call for help. When Dep. Chris Smith arrived at the house, the resident opened fire and killed him. He also shot at Dep. Colin Wulfekuhl, but he was saved when a bullet hit his protective vest. The suspect was then shot and killed by a third deputy after a 12-minute exchange of gunfire. CDA director Tim Lee said, “The Leon County Sheriff’s Office is gravely concerned and deeply troubled about the CDA staff not providing available, critical officer safety information” to the first responders, including the fire department. The fired dispatchers are Gwen Forehand, 25 years of service, Doyai Hester, 20 years, and Darrel Newman, 10 years. A dispatcher-in-training was suspended for two weeks without pay over the incident. Lee said all CDA dispatchers will receive training to stress the importance of premise alerts and how to access them. The comm center took over dispatching for several agencies earlier this year, and has been criticized by emergency agencies for mistakes and technology glitches. Read more about the firings here. Update: Within days, the three dispatchers appeared very briefly at a press conference arranged by their attorney. They said they performed as trained, while the attorney raised a question whether the computer-aided dispatch (CAD) software had properly dispatched the premise alert. Watch the video after the break. [click to continue…]

Officers of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) have arrested a 17 year-old on charges that he made a SWATing telephone call to a Florida sheriff’s comm center last September, reporting he was driving to a local school with an AK-47 rifle and intended to “shoot everyone.” The suspect allegedly also sent similar email threats in October to a teenage girl in Florida and made an additional SWATing call in November reporting a murder at the teen’s home. Polk County sheriff’s deputies say the phone calls and email specifically targeted a girl who had rejected his on-line relationship. Sheriff’s deputies traced the email and telephone calls and provided the suspect’s information to the RCMP. The unnamed teen was arrested last Saturday, his house was searched and his computer gear was seized. The RCMP said the suspect is an experienced computer programming, and is already on probation for SWATing incidents within Canada. Sheriff’s deputies say the teen is also a suspect in several other U.S. SWATing and identify theft incidents. The suspect won’t be extradited to the U.S. because he is a teen, but Polk County officials say they may pursue a civil action to recoup the cost of the emergency responses to the calls and email. Read more about the arrest here and here. [In an odd twist, the teen’s father claims his house is bugged by an unknown group or agency.]

Eighteen months after allegations of poor management practices were made by a FirstNet board member, a federal U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC) investigation has confirmed there was poor and lax record-keeping for filing legally-required conflict of interest forms, and poor management of contract awards. In a report issued today, the DOC’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) said some FirstNet employees simply failed to file forms detailing their financial background, but that others manipulated work records to avoid being required to file the reports. In response to numerous requests for documents to support the investigation, the OIG said FirstNet staffers frequently couldn’t find records, or determined that they now don’t exist. Complaints about FirstNet’s operation were first made by board member Story County (Ia.) sheriff Paul Fitzgerald in April 2013. He complained that members were meeting informally and decided matters, and weren’t sharing FirstNet financial and hiring documents. A specially-formed FirstNet committee concluded the transparency complaint was unfounded, but left other issues to an OIG investigation. Now the OIG says board members didn’t file timely public financial disclosure reports, and procedures for monitoring potential conflicts of interest need improvement. response

An internal investigation by the Clark County (Wash.) Sheriff’s Office has found that a deputy violated policy when he self-cancelled his response to a welfare check initiated by a 911 call, but did respond two days later to a welfare check at the same location, where two people were found dead. The incident spotlights questions about who is responsible for ensuring a prompt law enforcement response—dispatcher or deputy—and exactly how incident information should be transmitted to the field. In this case, a man dialed 911 but hung up without talking to a dispatcher. The calltaker dialed back he number and talked to a man, who said his wife had accidentally dialed. But the man hung up when the calltaker asked to speak to the woman. The incident was coded as a “welfare check,” with the notation “Your discretion.” The incident was transmitted to a deputy over the sheriff’s mobile data system, and appeared on the assigned deputy’s computer screen. However, the deputy said he only saw the hang-up call information, and not that the calltaker talked to the man. The deputy checked the premise history, and found no entries. He then cancelled the incident and did not respond. Instead, he went to a pre-arranged lunch with his girlfriend and another deputy. Two days later, a family called to say their relatives had been out of communications. The same deputy responded and found a couple dead, apparently from a murder-suicide. The deputy was fired for canceling the call without permission and not responding to the incident. Download (pdf) the full disciplinary investigative report. details

Residents of Washington state suffered through a 911 outage over a six-hour period last April because of computer mistakes, and now a state commission staff has recommended fines totaling $3 million against CenturyLink, who operates the state’s 911 network. The staff of the Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) also made recommendations to prevent future outages, including programming changes and more complete reporting of outages by CenturyLink to the state. The fines and staff recommendations must be approved by the three-member UTC before they could become effective. The outage began just before midnight on April 9th after mis-programmed computers operated by sub-contractor Intrado tripped error alarms which, in turn, had been mis-set to a low priority. Full 911 service was not restored to the state until about 6 a.m. the next day. CenturyLink said about 5,840 calls were not transmitted during the outage, although local officials say the outage didn’t create any serious consequences. Even so, one comm center manager told the UTC it was the state’s most extensive outage since 911 service became available in 1970. In its report released last week, the UTC staff said, “CenturyLink did not adequately provide the necessary safeguards to protect the state 911 system and had those safeguards been in place.” In addition, the staff determined that, “CenturyLink failed to provide prompt and critical information to PSAPs, hampering the PSAPs ability to reroute calls.” The report noted that CenturyLink and Intrado have already made “some changes” to address the computer programming glitch, and now monitor 911 call routing more effectively. However, the staff said that neither company has made “substantial changes” to balance 911 call processing between Intrado’s data centers in Colorado and Florida to limit future outages. Download (pdf) the full 56-page staff report for the details of the outage, diagrams of the state 911 system and the staff’s recommendations.

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 spokesperson said the radio dispatcher never relayed the caller’s information about the pistol possibly being a replica firearm. When two officers arrived at a city recreation center, they saw the boy and confronted him. The 12 year-old reached for the pistol in his waistband, police say, and 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.