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The Wrap-Up

After 39 years in public safety communications and 20 years sitting at a console answering 9-1-1 calls and coordinating police, fire and EMS field units by radio, I’m really retiring. I won’t be adding new material to this Web site or even tending to it. But it will remain for awhile as a potential reference. I’ll be watching my email, but replies will be “iffy.” My eternal thanks to Alan Burton for sharing so much information and inspiration, and for his confidence in my abilities, both for dispatching and writing. He is still my hero.

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Dispatcher Recalls 911 Call CPR

Officials in Clark County (Wash.) say they are reviewing how dispatchers handled a neighborhood shooting incident and a subsequent multi-agency SWAT response that led to an innocent man being shot by officers who were confused by conflicting radio traffic. The county district attorney has already cleared the officers of any wrong-doing, but the injured man’s attorney says he’s planning legal action. Last month a county resident shot a neighbor over a long-running property dispute, and then fled into a nearby woods. Meanwhile, an area resident was enroute to his security guard job, noticed the suspect’s car parked in an out-of-the-way area, and stopped to investigate. He dialed 911 to report the car, but dispatchers neither warned him of the original shooting or the nearby police search for the suspect. They also didn’t ask for the caller’s description, or then warn SWAT officers in the area about the caller’s presence near the suspect’s car. As the search continued, officers spotted the man who dialed 911, believed it was the shooting suspect returning to his car, and opened fire. The caller was armed with a handgun and fired back, believing someone from a nearby overpass was shooting at him—he never heard police give any warnings. He was shot in the leg by the officers, and dialed 911 again to report he had been shot. Later in an ambulance, the caller heard officers say, “Is this the guy we shot?” Only then did he realize that police had shot him. The comm center investigation should be complete within a week, officials say. Read more about the incident here, and listen to 911 calls here.

A major 911 industry association has filed comments with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) urging them to adopt rules that split the responsibility for providing back-up power for VoIP telephone service so subscribers still have a way to dial 9-1-1 when their electric service is interrupted. Last month the commission acknowledged that many households have switched from copper-wire telephones to IP-voice telephone service, usually in connection with how they obtain Internet service for their computers. The FCC also noted that many carriers are retiring copper wire service because of its high installation and maintenance costs, and limited flexibility for providing advanced services. Considering public safety, the FCC proposed rules that would require carriers to provide electrical power for their modems and associated gear that provides telephone service, to maintain 911 service during outages. In its comments, the National Association of State 911 Administrators (NASNA) suggested providing 24 hours of back-up power, instead of the eight hours proposed by the commission. The group also noted a distinction between those who have already switched to VoIP and those forced to change as copper is retired. “The former should already be aware of the limitations of their service,” NASNA said, “and should have taken personal responsibility for ensuring they have extra batteries or an alternative means of communication during a power outage. The latter group would have no alternative means of communication after the loss of copper, and the carrier should be responsible for initially providing a back-up power source, NASNA said. The group said back-up power should apply to “minimally essential communications,” including outgoing 911 voice calls and texts, incoming emergency alerts and warnings, and outgoing calls to 211 and other community services. Download (pdf) FCC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking here, and the group’s comments here.

A report by New York City’s top management investigator has found the city’s 911 upgrade project has been seriously mismanaged, has passed $2 billion in costs and is not close to being completed. The project began in 2004, and last October the Department of Investigation (DOI) warned the project was out of control and $700 million over budget. The latest report is scathing in its criticism of almost every aspect of the project, including that managers misrepresented the project’s status to former mayor Michael Bloomberg and did not properly supervise outside constructors. A former Bloomberg aide criticized the report before its release, claiming the 911 upgrade was a “tremendous success,” and that the DOI report was neither “thorough” or “objective.” Among the criticism were that the project lacked vision and planning, was ill-defined, set unrealistic expectations, had inadequate staffing and had no central decision-making authority. Download (pdf) the entire 112-page report, and read an editorial calling the 911 project an example of “epic incompetence.”

A 911 dispatcher in Galax (Virg.) answered a scared mother’s prayers and helped save her child’s life by guiding the little boy’s family through CPR—even though the center doesn’t provide EMD instructions. Seventeen-month-old Aidan Walker had been under the weather and was taking a nap with his grandmother when he suddenly had a seizure and stopped breathing. Read more here.

During a routine meeting of an obscure Federal Communications Commission (FCC) task force last week, one of the agency’s commissioners raised an amazing possibility—the nation’s 5,900 public safety answering points (PSAP) might be consolidated and reduced to just three. Whether that’s even physically or politically possible wasn’t explored by commissioner Michael O’Reilly, but it certainly raised the eyebrows of attendees at the Task Force on Optimal Public Safety Answering Point Architecture (TFOPA) meeting. As recounted by Urgent Communications, O’Reilly told the meeting “By some estimate, the current structure would be able to operate at optimal efficiency with as few as three [PSAPs] nationwide.” He didn’t explain if he meant physical or virtual PSAPs, the latter a possibility after the NG911 project is completed over the next 10 years. Watch the video of the entire 2 ½-hour meeting here.

As part of the National Football League’s “No More” campaign against domestic violence, the league will run a 30-second commercial during this Sunday’s Super Bowl featuring a “trick” 911 call. In the commercial, a woman pretends to be ordering a pizza while talking to a 911 calltaker, presumably in order not to alert the person who she fears. Such incidents have actually occurred, and have been one element of the adoption of text-to-911 technology that is slowly rolling out across the United States. [click to continue…]

After a year of non-stop lobbying, political rhetoric and committee work by public safety organization, today the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved regulations that will increase the reported accuracy of 911 calls, particularly for calls made from indoors and above the ground. FCC said they gave “considerable weight” to the consensus agreement reached between the wireless carriers and APCO/NENA to “establish clear and measureable timelines for wireless providers to meet indoor location accuracy benchmarks, both for horizontal and vertical location information.” Acknowledging the technical hurdles of improved locations, the FCC said their requirements allow enable wireless providers to choose “the most effective solutions and allow sufficient time for development of applicable standards, establishment of testing mechanisms, and deployment of new location technology.” The Order takes into account an agreement reached last year between the four largest wireless carriers and two biggest public safety groups, and a later amendment, But it doesn’t meet the standards of the Find Me 911 coalition that was lobbying for even tighter accuracy rules. In a statement, FCC chair Tom Wheeler says the coalitions accuracy concerns were addressed and reassured, “We will have better data than ever before about carriers’ location accuracy performance, and we will hold them to account if they do not live up to their commitments.” Wheeler added, “Let there be no mistake—we are establishing a floor, not a ceiling. It is a beginning, not an end.” Update: On Feb. 4th the FCC posted the official Report & Order (pdf) outlining all of the new location regulations, which includes a timeline of how the new requirements were developed. more reaction

In the face of on-going staff shortages at the Flint (Mich.) police department, a consultant has recommended taking a drastic step—stop responding to any incident that isn’t a crime in progress or an immediate life-and-death emergency, and refer all other callers to the city’s Web site to make a report. The consultants also recommended moving police dispatching services to Genesee County’s comm center. The intent is to free up more patrol and investigative time to handle a rate of violent crimes higher than Detroit, and reduce a constant backlog of calls for service. At its core, the problem is caused by the department’s philosophy that “no call is considered too minor to warrant a response and no case is too small to warrant an investigation,” the consultant said. Discretionary patrol time per hour has increased from three minutes per hour in 2010 to 15 minutes in 2014 through various staffing changes. But the consultants say there are no more easy steps to improving that figure to 30 minutes per hour, the recommended level. Download (pdf) the consultant’s full report, including the comm center recommendations (p. 64).

A Phoenix (Ariz.) police dispatcher calmly talked a suspect in a violent murder to surrender after he dialed 911, but police are also investigating how a 911 call was handled one day earlier by a child, reporting the suspect was “mentally unstable.” At the end of a remarkable eight-minute 911 call with an unnamed calltaker, Andrew Ward walked out of convenience store and was taken into custody. Police found Ward’s 12 year-old brother back home, repeatedly stabbed to death. One day earlier, a young girl dialed 911 from Ward’s home to tell a calltaker that Ward had just arrived home. “We’re afraid he bought something that could possibly harm us,” the girl said. However, the calltaker told the youth that, “I can’t guarantee that (officers are) going to go in and search his room because he’s not doing anything.” The girl mentioned that her mother was also home, but the calltaker didn’t ask to speak to the mother, or ask other questions that might have provided more background on Ward’s behavior. The girl ended the call by saying, “OK. I guess I’ll have to wait till he does something.” Police officials declined to comment on the first 911 call, but did issue a statement. “Our operators ‘screen’ several million calls per year and follow our policies, directives,” it said, “and their experience to dispatch officers when they believe it is necessary. If we all had the benefit of hindsight, of course we would have liked to seen a different outcome in this case.” Listen to the child’s call here. Also listen to the suspect’s 911 call, during which the talented calltaker convinces a stranger to leave his cellular phone with the suspect so she can maintain contact with him as officers responded.

A smoky electrical fire in a section of Washington’s (DC) underground subway system last week has revealed problems with the fire department’s radio communications in the tunnels, forcing firefighters to relay information verbally. One person died and several were injured when a train stalled in a smoke-filled tunnel, and passengers were trapped for 40 minutes. In a preliminary post-incident report, District officials acknowledged that new digital trunked portable radios weren’t able to communicate with ground-level units, and reverted to direct-mode with a limited range. The fire department upgraded their radio system after encountering similar in-building communications problems during a Sept. 2013, multi-fatality shooting incident inside a U.S. Navy administration building. Read the The upgrade included encryption, which was turned on just last December. District’s report (pdf) that includes a timeline and email from one firefighter reporting the radio problems.

Officials of the San Diego Fire-Rescue agency say that a dispatcher’s instructions to passersby to remove a tourniquet they placed on an accident victim whose leg was severed, was a mistake. However, they say it’s questionable if the error led to the man’s death later in a hospital, since paramedics arrived within three minutes and reapplied the tourniquet. City EMS director Jim Dunford said he had not spoken to the unnamed dispatcher, and didn’t know why she gave the advice. He said EMD tourniquet advice for the last two years has been to leave it in place until a firefighter arrives and medically evaluates the patient. In this case, the victim was a pedestrian in the roadway and was hit by a motorcycle, severing his leg below the knee. A witness to the accident was ex-military, and used his belt as a tourniquet. However, when the man’s girlfriend dialed 911, the dispatcher told him, “We need to take that belt off. We don’t want to tourniquet it.” Dunford said it’s the first time he’s heard of such a mistake in 25 years, and that all dispatchers are being updated on the current tourniquet policy. Read more about the incident here.

A former Newport Beach (S. Calif.) police dispatcher has filed a lawsuit filed with complicated references to post traumatic stress disorder, union complaints, husband-wife connections, harassment and internal complaints—just for a start. The lawsuit filed in April 2013 also refers to pornography, running over a seagull with a police car and complaints over how the police chief was hired. Essentially, Christine Hougan claims she was fired in 2012 as retaliation for testifying in a co-worker’s harassment complaint, and because her police sergeant husband was leading a union action against the police chief. The city has said Hougan was fired for 11 serious rule violations, and her husband was fired in 2012 for viewing pornography on city computers, including after being discovered and formally warned. Read the fine details of the lawsuit here, and download the lawsuit complaint and city response here.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will consider new rules on 911 location accuracy during its first meeting of 2015 later this month, according to chair Tom Wheeler, and it’s likely the final rules will split between the the commission’s own proposal and a carrier agreement reached last year. In a blog post yesterday, Wheeler noted the commission’s on-going public safety priority has been to improve location accuracy for wireless 911 calls. In the early days of cellular 911, most wireless usage occurred outdoors, he said. “But times have changed, and so has technology. The vast majority of 911 calls now come from wireless phones, increasingly from indoors.” In particular, he noted the “significant advances” with “the potential to locate indoor callers by address, floor, and apartment or room number.” He mentioned the FCC’s proposed rules to improve 911 location accuracy, and also the roadmap created by the carriers and public safety organizations to improve accuracy. “The roadmap proposal is a big step forward,” Wheeler said, “but we also understand and appreciate the valid criticisms raised by some public safety stakeholders.” He revealed that he is circulating an order to fellow Commissioners, “that takes advantage of the good work done by the carriers, APCO, and NENA, while also providing confidence-building measures and backstop thresholds that set clear targets and deadlines for improving indoor location and hold parties accountable for results.” Wheeler didn’t explain how the two proposals might be combined into a single set of rules. The FCC’s public meeting is scheduled for January 29th.