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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.

Man Admits 7 Murders During 911 Call

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.

For decades the Detroit (Mich.) Fire Department has suffered through the city’s financial problems, but now testimony from consultants during the city’s bankruptcy proceedings shows how primitive fire station alerting has become. Without a computerized dispatch system, firefighters are using soda cans filled with coins to let them know they’ve been dispatched to an incident. The city filed for bankruptcy in July 2013 after its debt grew to an unmanageable $20 billion, the largest in U.S. history for any city. For the past several months a judge has been hearing testimony about the city should re-emerge from bankruptcy, repay some debt and continue operations. Consultant Charles Moore told the judge the city needs to invest in technology, and explained how the fire department transmits incident information to fire houses: The information is faxed to the stations, and is printed out on a laser printer. In order to know a fax has been received, firefighters balance an empty soda can filled with coins or bolts on the front lip of the printer. When the fax paper comes out, it tips over the can and “sounds” an alert. Some stations have rigged wind chimes or other mechanisms to sound an alert. The city has pledged $42 million for fire department technology upgrades when the bankruptcy settlement is finalized. Read more about the situation here. video

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.