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Faced with an ever-increasing number of public safety smartphone applications being developed by independent companies, the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO) has now created a Web site to help focus app programming on real-world and practical features. There are currently scores of apps for the iPhone and other handsets, but none fully integrate with 911 centers, and the features of many are impractical or ignore 911 centers. Earlier this year APCO warned of applications being developed by companies and groups with no expertise or experience in the field of public safety communications. The new Web site hopes to assist developers by connecting them with public safety professionals, and learning more about which features are most useful to comm centers and the public. The site launched yesterday with 60 representative apps selected by APCO’s staff, and allows visitors to to rate and comment on them. The site does not allow downloads of the apps directly, but does provide a link to the appropriate app store. APCO notes it will not be endorsing or vetting the apps, but will instead let the the site’s visitors, “provide critical insights to identify the best apps and facilitate practitioner-driven innovation.” The current list of app categories includes reference, maps, video, government data and personal safety. Last month APCO began a program to create official standards for developing apps that can integrate directly with public safety answering points (PSAP). The process includes creating draft standards, accepting public comments and making revisions, which usually takes many months.

A government report that is critical of how the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) collects and analyzes data on local 911 funding has come under fire itself, from the National Emergency Number Association (NENA). The crux of the unusual double critique is that while the FCC collects information on how state 911 surcharges are collected, the information is inconsistent and incomplete, and insufficiently analyzed. The report released today by the General Accountability Office (GAO) acknowledge that 97 percent of public safety answering points (PSAP) in the U.S. have Phase II E911 service. That’s an improvement since 2006, the GAO noted, when just 57 percent of PSAPs had Phase II features. But the GAO said the FCC’s methods for collecting data “limit its usefulness.” Notably, states are not required to participate in the funding survey, and not all report their surcharges in dollar amounts (they only report the percentage figure of the surcharge). Most of the state responses are textual, making analysis and comparison difficult or impossible, the GAO said. As for NENA, the group said the GAO report was “a missed opportunity” to take a detailed look at the state data, and determine where 911 surcharge funds are actually being spent. In a written statement, NENA CEO Brian Fontes said the group was still pleased that the information will be shared with lawmakers. “We call on the Congress to scrutinize the report and continue to seek more illuminating data,” Fontes said. Download (pdf) the 41-page report here. [click to continue…]

Facing a pair of common misconceptions about public safety communications, a national group has posted a layman’s explanation of why first responders can’t rely on cellular telephones for primary communications, and why the future broadband network won’t work for mission-critical voice. The posting by the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) comes as scores of public safety agencies are upgrading their radio networks, and the federal government is leading an effort to create a nationwide wireless broadband data network. Both projects have generated questions by politicians and the general public about alternate ways of providing wireless voice communications for law enforcement, fire and EMS agencies. Specifically, some outside public safety believe that cellular networks could be used instead of push-to-talk radios, saving the expense of buying and operating individual agency radio systems. Some also believe that the wireless broadband network being created by FirstNet might support voice communications. In its posting, NPSTC’s  bullet point focus on the need for priority access, group communications, high reliability and security and the lack of current LTE technology to provide those features on a wireless network. The group warned public officials at all levels, “to not abandon or stop funding their public safety LMR systems,” believing that the broadband network will take over for their radio system.” Download (pdf) the full NPSTC explanation here.

With a lawsuit hanging over the department, this week Denver Police released the logging tape of a 911 call from a road rage victim, and as the caller spoke to a dispatcher, the second motorist returned, opened fire with a handgun and killed one man. The incident occurred in April 2012 near the city’s border with Lakewood. After the road rage incident, the victims drove to a relative’s apartment about three blocks into Lakewood, and then dialed 911. Calltaker Juan Jesus Rodriguez told the men they had to return to Denver in order to meet with an officer to file a report—officers would not leave the city to handle incidents. During the call the men drove back to the scene of the original incident in Denver. Almost immediately, the other party in the road rage drove by and fired at the victims. The entire sequence was captured by the 15-minute 911 call that was just released. A city audit issued in February found a culture of poor call handling by dispatchers, including inaccurate incident locations, failure to dispatch EMS units appropriately, and other mistakes. Overall, the audit found that dispatchers received a failing grade on 20 percent of the calls they handled. Rodriguez was fired (pdf) for his role in the incident, but the family of Jimma Paul Reat has filed a lawsuit over his death. Listen to the 911 call here (transcript, pdf).

When a citizen dialed 911 to report seeing a man with a gun, NORCOM (Bellevue, Wash.) dispatcher Kelly Stiefel had been in training for three months, and released to the floor for  just 10 days. A trainer was plugged into the console with her, but Stiefel recalls the incident had her heart racing. Read her interview with a KING-TV reporter and view the video after the break. [click to continue…]

Three Los Angeles-area celebrities were the latest victims of malicious calls to police, falsely reporting shootings at their homes and generating a heavy police response. Yesterday evening, police say callers reported incidents at the homes of singers Rihanna and Selena Gomez and actor Justin Timberlake. All the callers described shootings, two inside homes and the third on the street. Rihanna was not at home when police arrived to investigate armed men inside and a shooting victim. The call involving Gomez reported a shooting on the street, and the caller for Timberlake said four men were inside the residence and shots had been fired. Rapper Diddy was victimized Thursday in nearby Toluca Lake, police said. Police did not say if the same persons might be involved in these latest incidents. SWATing callers typically use non-emergency or TTY telephone lines to report their false incidents, and an IP-based telephone line to conceal the origin of their calls. Such incidents were rare in the U.S. until about four months ago, when a series of celebrity-based calls began. Several previous callers were identified by the FBI and successfully prosecuted. No one has been arrested in the most recent series of calls.

An audit of Portland’s (Ore.) five-year project to update its computer-aided dispatch (CAD) software determined that it was completed on-time and under-budget. But a just-released city audit found that three other public safety projects are now over-budget and almost three year beyond schedule, mostly because of poor management practices. “An ineffective governance structure hindered the (project) from meeting basic goals and objectives and contributed to delays and cost overruns,” the report states. The city began a major update public safety systems in 2006, including an upgraded CAD and radio system, new inter-agency data network and fire information system (FIS). The CAD project was completed in April 2011 for $14.3 million, about 10 percent under-budget and within two weeks of its scheduled go-live date. But the remaining projects, the audit notes, are now $4.5 million over their original budget and up to four years beyond the estimated completion date. The 48-page report noted that the radio project has had four managers since 2008, and the FIS has had three managers. Even now, the radio project has two separate managers leading the upgrade effort. Another complication—In 2011 the city began negotiations with a company for the data network, only to have that company acquired by another firm, delaying the entire project. The auditor recommends stabilizing the projects’ management teams, improving management of project changes, and testing systems appropriately before deploying them. Download (pdf) the audit for more details.

Critical technology supporting the nation’s E911 networks has become the subject of “predatory” patent lawsuits, creating roadblocks to the continued development of Next Generation 911 (NG911) services, according to one company that provides services to public safety. These lawsuits could force companies to abandon their current E911 services or stall future projects, creating delays or loss of communications for people in jeopardy. Those claims were contained in a petition filed with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) last year by TeleCommunications Systems Inc. (TCS). The petition asked the commission to provide some measure of lawsuit protection for E911 companies so the development of new technologies can continue. Alternatively, TCS asked the FCC to establish reasonable terms for companies to license E911 patents. The lawsuits have been filed over the last five years against cellular handset manufacturers, and focus on geo-locating features that transmit a 911 caller’s location to a public safety answering point (PSAP). [click to continue…]

Dispatchers at the Newtown (Conn.) emergency comm center have their good days and bad days after the tragic school shooting, their manager recently told a group of Iowa dispatchers, and training was the key element to successfully handle the incident. Maureen Will is on a tour of conferences through October to share her personal experience and to provide some insights for others in preparing for a critical incident. She spoke to 250 attendees at the Iowa Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO) conference and admitted that she went into a “robot state,” operating only from her experience and training and temporarily blocking out the horrific details of the shooting. She said that knowing the incident command system, having an active shooter policy and knowing how to contact needed resources were essential during the initial stages. Read more about her advice here.

Almost 15 years after assigning 700 MHz spectrum to public safety operation, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has now issued its seventh set of regulations for the band, and has requested comments on making even more changes. The latest Report and Order, and a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking documents how the original 24 MHz of spectrum has followed a twisting path of regulation forced by improvements in technology and how communications are used by public safety agencies. The rule changes generally provide more flexibility in using the 700 MHz band because of advancements in radio equipment. The FCC is also asking for comment on proposed rules for moving from 12.5 kHz to 6.25 kHz radio channels, use of certain frequencies for air operations and several technical issues. The FCC originally licensed 24 MHz within the UHF-TV band for public safety, allocating sections for narrowband and broadband operations. Several years later the FCC designated another 10 MHz allocation for broadband, and then consolidated the original 24 MHz band for narrowband. More recently, last year’s Middle Class Tax Relief and ob Creation Act required consolidation of the 24 MHz and 10 MHz bands and allow more flexible use of the frequencies. Now the FCC is taking action on those Congressional requirements. Download (pdf) the full R&O and NPR here.

A 15 year-old girl dialed 911 from her Chula Vista (S. Calif.) home when she heard someone trying to break in at mid-day. Chula Vista dispatcher Angie Rivera fielded the call and kept the teen on the line—and quiet—while officers raced to surround the home. At one point the three suspects moved into the closet where the girl was hiding, but didn’t notice her hidden under clothes. Police arrested the trio when they left the house. Rivera, who is the mother of a 15 year-old, said she shed some tears at the end of the incident, knowing the victim was safe. Read more about the incident here and here.

Columbus (Miss.) police chief Selvain McQueen presented commendations to the five dispatchers who handled a March 15th bank robbery in that city, noting that the dispatchers’ quick work allowed officers to make an arrest before the suspect the bank property.

In response to “widespread” 911 failures during the derecho windstorm that struck the midwest and east coast in June 2012, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) today issued proposed rules to improve the reliability and resiliency of 911 networks. The storm knocked out power and communications lines in six states, affecting 77 public safety answering points (PSAP) covering 3.6 million people. The Bureau found that, “Above and beyond any physical destruction by the derecho, 9-1-1 communications were disrupted in large part because of avoidable planning and system failures, including inadequate physical diversity and a lack of functional backup power in central offices.” The FCC is now asking for comment on its recommendations to provide physical diversity for 911 circuits, maintain telephone company central office back-up power, and to improve network monitoring systems. The FCC says it’s considering a range of programs to enforce any adopted rules, including mandatory reporting, certification of communications providers, compliance reviews and inspections, and setting reliability requirements. The commission also proposes to clarify its current rules for 911 service providers to notify PSAPs of significant outages. They proposed that provider immediately notify PSAPs by telephone and via electronic means, instead of “as soon as possible,” as now required. Read a news story about the effects of the storm on 911, and download (pdf) the FCC’s official derecho after-incident report. that sparked the new proposed rules. Download (pdf) today’s notice and statements from the FCC commissioners. Download (pdf) the full Public Notice here.

Actress Halle Berry, who plays a 9-1-1 calltaker in the new film “The Call,” poses with Los Angeles Police Department 9-1-1 personnel who helped her prepare for the role (l. to r.):  Liz Montgomery, Maria Moreno, Berry, Yolanda Arroyo, and Gilbert Najar. (courtesy of Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc.)

The star of the movie “The Call” mingled with Los Angeles Police Department public safety dispatchers and officials of the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) last Wednesday during a gala for a national fund-raising campaign to benefit training and public education programs. Halle Berry, who portrayed a call-taker in the feature-length movie, said that like many people, she was unaware of the scope of a dispatcher’s job. “I had no idea what you do,” she said. “But after seeing the vastness of it, I wanted to honor you in this role. And I want the world to know you are the unsung heroes of this city and every community in America.” Berry spoke at a special screening of the movie, attended by 180 LAPD comm center personnel and NENA officials. To prepare for the role Berry visited the LAPD comm center and worked with four experienced dispatchers. The movie was actually filmed in a two-level movie set constructed in the LA area. NENA CEO Brian Fontes thanked Berry and the film company at the event. “We are so grateful to Ms. Berry, Sony Pictures, and the entire team involved in this film for their support,” he said. NENA’s “Friends of 9-1-1” program is a non-profit organization that funds 911 career training programs, including special outreach to military service veterans, high school, junior college, and vocational students. The program also includes scholarships, continuing education, and career advancement opportunities for current 911 professionals, NENA says.

In the aftermath of news stories criticizing how the Los Angeles Fire Department responds to medical incidents near the city limits, the city’s fire chief has announced that the agency will move towards a joint response strategy to reduce response times. An analysis last year of EMS incidents by the Los Angeles Times newspaper found that thousands of medical incidents were closer to LA County fire stations, and yet LA City fire units were dispatched to handle them. The newspaper located two cardiac arrest incidents that ended with the patient’s death, which might have been avoided if county fire units had responded. It’s common for city and county jurisdictions to respond to their own incidents, irrespective of jurisdiction boundaries. However, in recent times funding and staffing shortages have forced agencies to either consolidate some operations or cooperate. In this case, fire chief Brian Cummings met with the Times editorial staff and said the department is in the early stages of creating a combined computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system with neighboring agencies. The project could take five years to complete and cost up t o $14 million for each participating agency. He didn’t say when a joint EMS response policy might be implemented. Read the LA Times story about the project here.