According to a lawsuit just filed in federal court, a Hartford (Conn.) police dispatcher sent police units to the wrong location of a reported shooting, and officers failed to find the body of the victim, even though he was lying in the grass just off the sidewalk. About nine hours later, a resident discovered the victim in her yard and called police, who found the victim was dead, in the same area the original caller had reported. According to the lawsuit, dispatcher Jennifer Martinez was “sarcastic, condescending and impatient” with the original 911 caller, failed to confirm the caller’s address and hung up on the caller. The caller correctly gave her address as 311 Linnmoore St., but for an unknown reason Martinez dispatched officers to 39 Linnmoore St., about three-quarters of a mile away. When other residents dialed 911 to report hearing gunfire, the officers were re-dispatched to the correct location, about four minutes after the original 911 call. But the lawsuit alleges the officers did not communicate with residents in the area and failed to find the victim, who lay in the grass until the next morning. The lawsuit claims Martinez already had a “sub-standard” performance history when the incident occurred, and had been previously disciplined. The lawsuit also names Andrew Jaffee as a defendant, the city’s head of emergency services and telecommunications who was fired by the mayor in Aug. 2013 for poor leadership of the comm center. Download (pdf) the full lawsuit and read more information about the lawsuit here.
Just two hours into her first full day on the job, Dekalb County (Geo.) 911 dispatcher Crystal Morrow fielded a call reporting that her own father had gone into diabetic shock. Morrow’s aunt made the call, and Morrow handled it completely before colleagues told her to leave and join her family. Read more about the incident here.
A nearly simultaneous 911 outage hit all of Washington state and significant parts of Oregon starting early Thursday morning, apparently caused by unrelated problems in the CenturyLink communications network that handles emergency calls. It was the most widespread 911 outage in the United States in recent times. No serious consequences resulted from the outages, but officials did say that many callers with emergencies could not immediately reach local first-responders for help when using wired telephones. According to state officials, a caller in Oregon reported the first problem at about 1:30 a.m. when he/she heard a busy signal after dialing 911. Dispatchers throughout Oregon then began receiving calls on 10-digit telephone lines from callers who said 911 wasn’t working. Within an hour problems began to surface in Washington. Officials said Oregon 911 service was restored by 6:30 a.m. Thursday, and Washington’s problems were fixed by 8 a.m. CenturyLink serves both states, and in a statement said the problems were unrelated. The company said it’s continuing its investigation into the outage. However, one comm center director said the Washington incident stemmed from a faulty network card that crashed a computer when it was replaced by technicians. The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission announced it would open an investigation into the incident. Read more about the incident here.
There was no delay in communications or response to a fatal shooting at the Los Angeles World Airport last November, but a new city analysis of the incident is critical of incident management, radio interoperability and public alerting. The 82-page report delves deeply into planning, coordination and training, but also reveals smaller technical details about 911 and radio that hindered the best possible response. The incident occurred on Nov. 12, 2013 when a man entered Terminal 3 and fatally shot a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officer at a passenger security checkpoint. He then moved through the airport firing his weapon until airport police officers engaged and shot him within four minutes. Despite being resolved quickly, the incident necessarily touched off a huge evacuation of the airport, a massive emergency response, and operations to insure the airport was safe from other suspects. Even though the incident occurred at one of the country’s busiest airports, its lessons are applicable to any size of agency. 911-radio details
A Minneapolis (Minn.) 911 dispatcher has gone public with her criticism of staffing levels at the center, directly calling on the mayor to fulfill a campaign promise to make the city safer. The problem seems to center on a training program intended to cross-train dispatchers for the calltaking and radio dispatching jobs. Robin Jones is a 30-year veteran, and last month told a WCCO-TV reporter that sometimes there is just one calltaker on-duty to answer 911 calls because of on-going training. There is overtime—up to 550 hours a month—but sometimes it’s not filled, and those working overtime are frazzled, Jones said. Internal memos indicate that 911 call answer times increased from an average of six seconds in 2011 to 10.4 seconds in 2013. WCCO began receiving citizen complaints last December, leading to a series of video reports on 911 call answering delays. The TV reports just prompted a blog response from mayor Betsy Hodges, who said a union election prevented her from commenting earlier, and that the comm center is now implementing a “common-sense” staffing model that combines job duties and is based on call demand. Read more about the current developments here, and the earlier TV investigation here. Update: WCCO-TV has posted a new story comparing Minneapolis’ center with the Douglas County (Omaha, Neb.) center.
The Rock County (Wisc.) Communications Center is working to reduce the number of non-emergency 911 calls it receives every year—about 34 percent of the total 70,000 annual calls. With the assistance of a local musician they have produced an public education music video that promotes the use of its non-emergency telephone number for barking dogs, parking violations and other situations. Read more about the video here.
In the wake of a New York state incident of malicious jamming of a fire department radio channel, a member of Congress is now proposing a bill that would criminalize such acts with severe penalties. Under current law, intentionally interfering with radio communications results in only a civil penalty, with fines up to $16,000 a day. U.S. Rep. Peter King (R) announced Monday that his legislation would make public safety radio interference a federal felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. King was motivated by an incident last year during which someone transmitted on the T-band radio channel for the Melville Fire Department. The transmissions included words and chanting, officials said. After 10 months, police made an arrest with the help of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). King has not formally introduced the legislation in Congress.
The Connecticut Supreme Court has reversed a $12 million verdict against the town of Clinton, saying one of its dispatchers didn’t realize a 911 caller was pursuing a hit-and-run suspect at high speeds, and so was not liable under state law when the suspect struck a tree and was seriously injured. The conservator of Walker Hopkins sued the city in 2005, claiming that dispatcher Ellen Vece should have instructed the 911 caller to stop chasing Hopkins, who had struck the caller’s vehicle, causing some damage. The plaintiff said Vece should have foreseen the potential danger in allowing the 911 caller to continue following the suspect vehicle. If true, the town would be liable under the “identifiable person–imminent harm” exception in the state’s governmental immunity law. A local court agreed with the conservator’s claims and awarded her substantial damages for Hopkins’ continuing care. However, the Supreme Court disagreed that Vece could have foreseen the danger, and reversed the lower court’s decision. details
As part of a wider review of the city’s response to emergency medical incidents, a private consultant has recommended that the Los Angeles fire and police computer-aided dispatch (CAD) systems be merged into single system, and that 198 fire department positions be civilianized, including firefighter dispatchers in the communications center. The consultants also recommended variable staffing based on prior analysis of time-of-day and location data for EMS incidents. The consulting company, PA Consulting Group, has been looking at ways to improve the deployment of fire department resources, and in this review focused on EMS operations. In their 85-page report, the consultants mentioned the department culture hasn’t changed over the past 30 years as fire hazards have decreased and medical incidents have increased. The department is too dependent upon sworn personnel, “even where a civilian with the required technical skills would be more effective.” Perhaps most significantly, the department is “almost entirely a reactive organization,” without a strategic direction or plan. details
The Los Angeles (Calif.) Fire Department is in breach of its contract to use emergency medical dispatching (EMD) protocols, according to the company who created them, and must stop using them within 60 days. That thorny situation was presented to the department in a hand-delivered letter Monday from Dr. Jeff Clawson representing Priority Dispatch. It culminates a years-long newspaper investigation into slow responses to medical emergencies in the city, and criticism of the EMD protocols by fire department officials earlier this year. Last month the fire department announced it would begin devising its own set of EMD protocols to improve upon the Priority Dispatch set. In the face of that criticism, Clawson defended the protocols, which grew from the originals he created at the Salt Lake City Fire Department in the 1970s. He also criticized the LAFD for misusing the protocols and creating “a threat to the health, safety and welfare of every man, woman and child in the City. ” Now, Clawson has taken the next step, invoking the company’s right to cancel the its contract with the city over “misuse” and an “Unsafe Practice.” Specifically, Clawson claimed in his letter, dispatchers are, “not using the protocols appropriately, misapplying the protocols, or not using them at all.” The letter also clearly indicates he is upset with “untruthful” statements by city officials that blame the protocols, instead of “dispatch errors by firefighter/calltakers who are not complying with the MPDS protocols.” Clawson said the company has the right to revoke the EMD license immediately, but was allowing the fire department 60 days in order to safely transition to alternate protocols. Read more about the situation here, and download (pdf) Clawson’s letter to the LAFD.
An Illinois legislator is hoping to fill a gap in state law that now allows employees of law enforcement agencies, including dispatchers, to tip off people about a criminal investigation and yet not be criminally prosecuted. The proposed law was introduced by state senator David Koehler in January, and was specifically focused on public safety dispatchers who might contact friend, relatives or others, and give them confidential information about an criminal investigation. A 2020 Illinois Supreme Court case highlighted the law gap when it overturned the conviction of a Glenwood police dispatcher who allegedly tipped off her boyfriend about a drug investigation. Under Koehler’s proposed bill, it would be a crime to communicate information acquired during employment, “to obstruct, impeded, or prevent the investigation, apprehension or prosecution” of any offense or person. The bill was passed by the Senate yesterday, and now moves to a rules committee before being considered by the House. Download (pdf) the current version of the bill here.
An investigative report by the Washington (DC) mayor’s office has revealed that both firefighters and dispatchers made multiple mistakes, leading to a delayed response that ended with the death of a man who suffered a cardiac incident. The 13-page report by Dep. Mayor Paul Quander Jr. says four dispatchers from the district’s Office of Unified Communications have been recommended for discipline, and five firefighters also face discipline. Last month Medric Mills, 77, collapsed at a business across from a district firehouse. Citizens went to the station and notified the firefighters, but for several reasons they did not respond to the incident. When a business owner dialed 911, a OUC calltaker mistakenly entered the location as Rhode Island Avenue NW, when it was actually located in the northeast (NE) quadrant of the city, a difference of almost three miles (street explanation). The 911 caller almost immediately corrected the calltaker, who updated the computer-aided dispatch (CAD) incident with the correct location. However, by then the EMS radio dispatcher had already dispatched the incident to field units, and then failed to notice the location update. A police dispatcher did notice the update and properly dispatched officers to the incident. EMS units arrived 9½ minutes after the 911 call was made. The report recommended several changes in the OUC dispatching procedures, including verifying locations on the radio and requiring a read-back, revising CAD displays of incident updates, and checking the status of responding units on the radio. Download (pdf) the full investigative report here.
Two suburban Indianapolis (Ind.) police departments received telephone calls from people claiming they held hostages or had shot people, triggering a large law enforcement response to residences, but which turned out to be hoaxes. At least one of the separate SWATing incidents was later linked to computer gaming, police said. No one was hurt in either incident, but police pointed out the potential dangers of the police response and vowed to track down whoever made the calls. The first call sent Zionsville police to a house where the caller told a dispatcher he had five hostages, an AK-47 and explosives, and that he wanted $100,000. Arriving officers heard loud reports—later determined to be fireworks—which ramped up the tension. When a dispatcher called the home, the occupants refused to come out, fearing it was the people who had been calling and harassing them. After the residents dialed 911, they came outside and police determined the hoax. In the second incident in the town of Carmel, someone dialed a TTY relay service and relayed that she had killed her husband and son, and shot her daughter with a shotgun. She vowed to shoot any officer who came to the house. Police arrived, evacuated the house and learned of the hoax. Read more about the incidents and listen to the 911 calls here.
Ironically,the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)—chaired by a former wireless industry group executive—has proposed rules to improve indoor 911 call accuracy that may be more challenging for cellular companies than the original Phase II rules devised in 1996. The proposals issued Thursday would require wireless carriers to provide improved indoor location accuracy, and add vertical (Z-axis) location data with three-meter accuracy to the ANI/ALI data transmitted to public safety answering points (PSAP). The FCC also urged public safety answering points (PSAP) to improve their technology to handle more accurate locations, and pushed companies for improved technology in the future to locate 911 callers. The commissioners were not unanimous in their approval of the new rules, saying that neither the technology nor the FCC’s timetable for improved accuracy has been fully thought out. But they all acknowledged the trend—up to 80% of 911 callers now use a cellular phone to report emergencies, more homeowners have wireless-only telephone service, and more 911 callers are calling from inside structures that could be 50 stories tall. As for the irony, from 1992 to 2004 FCC chair Tom Wheeler headed the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA), the group that wrestled to implement the original wireless location rules. At the time, the FCC’s rules were an enormous burden for the cellular industry, which was attempting to expand their networks and add subscribers, rather than tackling the difficult issue of pinpointing 911 callers. Download (pdf) the full Notice here. details
A committee of the European Union (EU) has approved a plan to create the infrastructure necessary to support the auto-dialing of the 1-1-2 emergency telephone number by vehicles involved in a collision anywhere in Europe. The decision is based on research that shows that the immediate notification of emergency services could potentially reduce response times by up to 50% in rural areas and up to 40% in urban areas. Several EU countries already have some form of automatic crash notification (ACN) system, but the EU parliament wants to standardize it and make it operate EU-wide. Last December the European Transport Safety Council approved the so-called eCall system, and this week the EU’s internal market committee also approved the plan, which would initially cover new cars and vans. The system would detect a vehicle collision, much as the ACN system proposed for the United States. The call would be routed to a call center, which is now usually the emergency center in the European countries that are already using the technology. The current deadline for automakers is Oct. 2015, but it could be delayed by implementation complexities, the committee noted. There are private systems operating in the U.S., including OnStar, Ford 911 Assist, BMW Assist and Lexus Link. However, there is no initiative to mandate all vehicles be equipped and for public safety answering points (PSAP) to handle ACN telephone calls. Download (pdf) a comprehensive description of the eCall system (with county-by-country studies) here, and the Transport Council’s evaluation of the system here. diagrams