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The Florida Highway Patrol says a 5 year-old boy’s 911 call on a deactivated cellular phone last March led to a fatal accident involving a Lee County sheriff’s deputy and an elderly couple. In a 60-page investigative report, the Patrol said the child’s parents had given him the telephone to play with after their cellular service ended, unaware that it was still capable of dialing 911. In fact, the child accidentally made one voice and three non-voice 911 calls. In response, a sheriff’s dispatcher dispatched two units to the child’s home. The deputies were responding together in separate vehicles, about a mile away from the residence. As they approached a signaled intersection, a vehicle entered from the right intending to make a left turn. The first deputy swerved and missed the vehicle. The second patrol car, traveling 78 mph, struck the vehicle. John and Marilyn Stefffen, 84 and 77 years-old, died from the collision. Dep. Roberto Torres, 28, was slightly injured. Investigators said during the first call, the child said to send, “a cop and a fire truck.” Deputies had previously been to the address for a domestic violence incident, perhaps hastening the deputies’ response. Call-backs to the cellular phone were not answered. Investigators said the boy had actually pressed “a very long series of numbers (one sequential string),” not the specific number 911. However, embedded in that string were the digits “911,” the report said. The State Attorney’s Office ruled there was insufficient evidence to press criminal charges against the child’s parents. Read more about the accident here, and download (pdf) the full collision report here.

In the wake of continuing personnel and technology problems at New York City’s emergency comm center, a leaked memo reveals that city leaders are considering mandatory 16-hour shifts for dispatchers, no weekends off for senior dispatchers, and the assignment of police officers to the center to increase staffing. City officials acknowledge the memo, but say the changes were the result of a “brainstorming exercise,” and no final decisions have been made. Comm center operations have been implicated in several high-profile response delays, including to a fatal vehicle accident in which a 4 year-old girl died. The center’s ICAD dispatching software system has suffered several outages that required manual incident handling, including earlier this week. Union officials claim that 20 to 30 dispatchers are resigning each month because of the stress of the job and forced overtime. Read more about the staffing and technology situation in the NY Daily News.

Even though its training meets state requirements, Portland’s Bureau of Emergency Communications (BOEC) is lax on updating dispatchers about revised procedures, a city audit has found, and hasn’t implemented recommendations made in a 2002 audit. In a 26-page report, the city’s auditor also said the center also doesn’t analyze complaints sufficiently to determine how policies and procedures might be revised to improve service. But in response to the audit, comm center director Lisa Turley said that low staffing and an inadequate budget don’t allow sufficient time for on-going training. “Unfortunately, when there are barely enough people to cover the floor, we cannot schedule time off the floor,” Turley wrote to the auditor. The audit noted that it found deficiencies in its earlier audit and made specific recommendations for improvement. Ironically, the report notes that a recommendation to develop an action plan for “hiring, training and retaining sufficient staffing levels” is one of those that hasn’t been implemented. A graph accompanying the audit shows that the number of telephone calls and dispatcher “actions” has been essentially flat over the past six years. However, the number of calls/actions per dispatcher has increased 25 percent over just the past year. Download (pdf) the audit for more details, and read a news story about the report.

For an occupation that is heavily dependent upon locations, Google’s latest Maps update provides additional ways to identify addresses and track incidents for public safety dispatchers. The update rolled out generally today, and improves on the standard Maps features of showing street maps and satellite images for almost every point in the United States. The street maps have been re-colored and given a cleaner look, and the typography has been simplified. Searching is much easier now—you don’t even need to press the Return key to begin a search. Instead, Maps will immediately start moving the map view to the location you’ve typed into the search box. Once you’re centered on an region, you can determine a specific address simply by clicking on a building outline (map view) or image (satellite view). The exact address is instantly displayed. You can now quickly view the Streetview version of a specific location with a single click (previously it took 3 clicks). And Maps now displays kive traffic congestion on the roadways for many urban areas, and traffic incidents are displayed as icons (click for information).

Norfolk (Virg.) dispatcher Jessica Camarillo called a reporter at WAVY-TV and asked for the opportunity to make a public apology for remarks she posted on a Facebook page last month. Camarillo’s posting suggested that the family of a man shot and killed by police should pay for the bullets that killed him, and other police response expenses. During the extraordinary TV interview at her apartment Camarillo explained that her posting was intended to “lighten the mood” of anger that was generated after the incident. In fact, the posting had the opposite effect, polarizing the community over the police shooting. At one point Camarillo became emotional, saying she truly cares about the people who call for help, and that she treats everyone equally. Her full posting stated, “I think the officers should sue the family for putting the officers lives in danger, making detectives work past the time they were suppose to get off, the gas it took for them to get to the scene, the bullets used, the hospital bills, the equipments needed for forensics, and making me work the channel instead of reading my hot sexy book…LOL.” The single mother told the reporter that she does not believe the family should pay anything, and said she does not read books during her shift. After learning of the posting, the city suspended Camarillo without pay, and recommended termination. Update: Questions have been raised whether Camarillo received appropriate representation and due process through the disciplinary process. Update:[click to continue…]

Five year-old Chloe Olson dialed 911 when her mother choked on a tortilla chip at their Ridgewood (NJ) home. The mother had just been talking to her husband on the telephone, so Chloe apparently believed she would be talking to her father, too. The dispatcher realized the situation and dispatched EMS units. Kelly Olson recovered before fire units arrived, but was still grateful that her daughter learned how to dial 911 in nursery school.

The building in Haleyville (Ala.) where the nation’s first 911 call was placed in 1968 is nearing demolition, a plan opposed by citizens who believe the building should be preserved for history. The city hall building still contains mementos of that first test call by state Sen. Rankin Fite, including a red rotary telephone and large sign outside that proclaims, “Where 911 Began.” City officials say they were approached by the CVS pharmacy chain with an offer to buy the property for a new store. City officials say the red-brick building is suffering from several system problems that could take up to $1 million fix, so selling it makes sense. But resident Valerie Taylor believes the building is an important part of local and national history, and should be preserved. She’s been gathering signatures on a petition to stop the sale of the property to CVS for construction of a new pharmacy, and has created a Web site about her campaign. She’s also appeared at several city council meetings to raise the issue of preserving the building. “I feel this building belongs to America,” Taylor said. “It should be preserved for future generations to be able to visit and learn more about 9-1-1.” The town of 4,700 holds a festival each year to commemorate the first 911 call. Read more: Taylor’s efforts to preserve the building; the history of 911; a petition to save the building.
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City officials in Lakeland (Fla.) are disappointed that no dispatchers were disciplined for off-duty behavior that included crude messages written on a mirror during a retirement event at a local bar. The city’s police department is already under investigation by the state attorney’s office for allegations of on-duty sex over the past seven years between civilian and sworn employees. Some of the sex was consensual, the state report found, but other incidents may have involved force or coercion. In the latest scandal, several dispatchers posted photos on their Facebook pages taken during a retirement event for a dispatcher. The photos show messages written on mirrors behind a bar where the event took place, presumably written by Lakeland dispatchers. One message said, “911 dispatchers sleep w/anyone we want & get what we want from all of them all night long.” Another said, “911 dispatchers make cops *****. Right Candice?” The messages were part of a tip jar contest—whoever put money in the tip jar to reach a certain dollar amount could then write a message on the mirror. Comm center manager Bill LaPere said the department’s regulations didn’t cover off-duty, anonymous behavior. Therefore, no discipline was possible. However, city commissioners criticized the dispatchers’ conduct, and said in the wake of the sex scandal, some discipline should have been handed out. View the photos of the messages and read more here.

New York City’s emergency dispatchers stated an informational protest near their Brooklyn comm center on Monday, raising issues of nearly continuous, mandatory overtime and on-going problems with the city’s new computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system. The public protest follows a stand-off last week between a police captain and several dispatchers he had just ordered to remain on-duty for overtime. The staffing issues have been routine for the they city, and are mirrored at most large-city public safety comm centers in the United States. During yesterday’s protest, about 70 dispatchers held up signs to motorists and pedestrians saying, “9-1-1 Needs Help.” The dispatchers said the new CAD software installed May 29th suffers from glitches and outages, putting citizens, police officers and firefighters at risk. The group also said they are frequently required to work an extra eight hours of overtime past their regular shift. In fact, police confirm that an investigation is underway about an incident last month during which 20 dispatchers were ordered to stay beyond their regular shift. The dispatchers reportedly left their consoles and refused to stay. The captain in charge gave them five seconds to return, or face loss of three vacation days. The dispatchers did go back to their consoles, but later filed a complaint, noting that some of the group had already worked five consecutive 16-hour days.

The nation’s four largest cellular carriers filed reports with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Monday saying they have met the deadline to provide a “bounce back” message to consumers who text to the 911 emergency number, and are moving forward to meet a May 2014 deadline to provide full text-to-911 service. The carriers AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile all noted that they had voluntarily committed to sending bounce back messages to consumers, notifying them that text-to-911 service was not available, and to dial 911 to make a voice call when reporting an emergency. AT&T said it will begin text-to-911 trials in Tennessee by Oct. 2013, and had already received 11 requests from public safety answering points (PSAP) for the service. Verizon officials said they had selected Telecommunication Services Inc. to deploy text-to-911, and would offer three different flavors of the service: via Web browser, via TTY and directly over IP. The company already provides the service to 11 PSAPs, it reported. Sprint said it intends to make a final vendor selection “in the near future,” and had just finished a 6-month trial with the state of Vermont. T-Mobile said it has been “actively engaged” in preparing for the service, but didn’t mention any specific trials. The CEO of the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) called the deadline an “important milestone” on the path to text-to-911 service. Brian Fontes said, “Due to the incremental nature of text-to-9-1-1 deployment, it is essential that the public be made aware of when and where text-to-9-1-1 is available.” Download (pdf) the carriers reports here and view an actual bounce back message after the break. [click to continue…]

The Los Angeles County (Calif.) civil grand jury is the latest group to criticize the city’s fire dispatching operations, and has issued a report recommending comm center civilianization, the use of emergency medical dispatching (EMD) and improved technology, all intended to improve medical incident response times. The 23-member grand jury also said the LA City fire department should reinstate funding that was cut in 2008 so more engine companies and ambulances could provide faster response times. The fire department has been under fire for the past year after it was revealed that calculations had been changed to make response times appear shorter than they actually were. Those figures were then used to justify cost-cutting that included reducing staffing by about 20 percent, county officials said. In its report, the grand jury said it visited four area comm centers and interviewed city fire officials. They gathered data from the Verdugo, LA County, LA City and Long Beach comm centers and compared response times and incident handling. The grand jury concluded that the caller’s language and cellular call locations add a degree of complexity to handling 911 calls. Additionally, geography is a factor in response times, especially for isolated locations and those in hilly communities. “Of the above factors, the most crucial and the most obvious impediment to adequate response times is the budget issue,” the grand jury said. They were “impressed” by the use of civilians to handle 911 calls, and recommended that LA City should replaced firefighters in the comm center with civilians. They recommended upgrading the 30 year-old computer-aided dispatch (CAD) software. Download (pdf) the full grand jury report.

The Seminole County (Fla.) sheriff’s dispatcher who fielded a telephone call from George Zimmerman was a six-year veteran of the agency, but in testimony during Zimmerman’s murder trial last week, he said he received just one month of side-by-side training before working on his own. Sean Noffke spent nearly 50 minutes on the stand explaining his job, and answering questions from the prosecutor and Zimmerman’s defense attorney. He said there are about 30 dispatchers on-duty during a typical shift, and that both 911 and 7-digit calls telephone calls are answered by the same team. He explained the comm center’s method of prioritizing incidents based on information provided by callers. Noffke then explained that Zimmerman’s call came in on a 7-digit, non-emergency line, and that he heard him describe a suspicious person. At one point Zimmerman said the person was running, and that he was following the person. “We don’t need you to do that,” Noffke told Zimmerman. Under questioning by the defense attorney, Noffke explained, “You don’t want to give direct orders to a person,” adding that the policy was meant to limit county liability. Both attorneys asked Noffke several times to characterize Zimmerman’s words, and if he had any concern about Zimmerman’s use of profanity. Watch a video of Noffke’s entire testimony after the break. [click to continue…]

An angry group of New York City city council members raised questions about improvements of the city’s public safety communications system, noting that it was seven years behind schedule and $1 billion over budget. Members of the Committee on Fire and Criminal Justice Services also heard information about how a recent fatal vehicle accident was handled, in the wake of criticism that an emergency response was delayed. Much of the committee’s criticism focused on how response times are calculated. Traditionally, the city clocked that figure from when the calltaker was finished with the call to when emergency units arrived. Committee members are proposing a city law to start the clock when a 911 call is first answered, in order to provide more accurate performance statistics. Outside, dispatchers and firefighter held a press conference to explain how mayor Bloomberg’s administration had “lied” about response times. Inside the hearing, Dep. mayor Cas Holloway warned council members to ignore claims being made in the press, which he said were being made for political purposes. Holloway told the council that the city’s previous computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system was installed in 1963, and built around an airline reservation system. He outlined how telephone, radio and computer systems are being updated and expanded. Watch the entire council subcommittee hearing video here, which includes a 90-minute comprehensive explanation of the city’s emergency communications system. Read about the committee hearing itself here., and download (pdf) the proposed laws on response time reporting. [click to continue…]

Testimony during the upcoming Florida murder trial of George Zimmerman will not include four experts who examined audio from a 911 call and reached different conclusions about who was talking on the tape. Judge Debra Nelson ruled today that the science behind the experts’ analysis was not “widely accepted,” and so jurors should not hear their testimony. However, Nelson ruled the prosecution or defense can still play the 911 call tape during the trial to establish other facts. In earlier court hearings, experts for the defense claimed that yelling on the 911 tape was from Zimmerman, while the prosecution experts said the sounds were made by Trayvon Martin, who died from a gunshot fired by Zimmerman. Both sides had expected to use the expert testimony to help establish who was the aggressor during a confrontation between the two men in Feb. 2012. Read more about the judge’s ruling here, and download (pdf) the judge’s ruling here.

A proposal by a New York City city council member to expand the definition of racial profiling has met with strong opposition by the city’s police unions, who say the bill would prevent officers from broadcasting even the most basic facts about a suspect, such as race, gender or age. A half-page ad in the New York Post paid for by the Captains Endowment Association showed a blindfolded officer standing on a street corner. “How effective is a police officer with a blindfold on?” the ad asked. The bill was proposed by Jumaane Williams (Brooklyn), and it would expand existing language about racial profiling, and the ability of citizens to pursue complaints with the police department. But according to the unions, the bill would limit descriptions of people to only their clothing. Any mention of other characteristics would put the officer in jeopardy of a complaint, the unions claimed. Williams said the unions were misrepresenting his proposal, and that it only adds additional groups to those being provided protection. Read more about the opposition here, and read the full text of the proposed bill here.