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An examination of south Florida public safety communications center records by a local television station found 172 incidents of dispatcher misconduct from 2006 to 2012, but only one employee termination. Instead, nearly half the incidents were handled with a disposition of “counseling.” The incidents ranged from sleeping on the job to downloading and repeatedly visiting dating Web sites. A Boca Raton dispatcher fell asleep during a 911 call, the discipline records showed. Reporters for WPTV obtained the records from city and county comm centers and compiled a database of the incidents and resulting discipline. The list does not include dispatcher names, but the station’s report said that several dispatchers had more than offense on their record. The TV report also includes tapes of interviews with three of the accused dispatchers, during which they explain their actions. Read more about the incidents here.

A series of false and malicious 911 calls targeting west coast celebrities for the past six months has now moved to the eastern part of the country. Most troubling, one of the false reports was made via a text message to a police department, perhaps the country’s first SWATing text message. Both of the two latest incidents occurred last Saturday night. In Howell (Mich.) an unknown person dialed 911 and claimed to be U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers. The impersonator said he was at home, had shot his wife and that he was now suicidal. Police responded in force, and quickly learned the call was false. Rogers happened to be in Washington (DC) at the time. That same night, Montgomery County (Virg.) police said someone sent them a text message reporting a shooting at the home of CNN newsman Wolf Blitzer. The text included Blitzer’s name and home address. Officers responded and discovered that Blitzer was not at home, and that the call was false. Police said the text message was sent through the department’s anonymous Text-A-Tip program, a third-party service that uses Canadian servers to remove the sender’s identifying information, and make it legally impossible to trace (pdf) messages.

A District of Columbia budget proposal to lengthen public safety dispatcher shifts from 10 to 12 hours has drawn sharp criticism from both sides of the radio—police officers who point to existing problems with the center, and dispatchers who say they’ll simply be more burned out than ever from understaffing. The Office of Unified Communications provides dispatching services to the District’s police, fire and EMS agencies, and was created in 2008 to consolidate the District’s various comm centers and improve operations. But even after the merger and move to a new center, criticism has continued. During a District Council committee meeting earlier this month, dispatchers testified that the center has lost 20 job positions over the last two years, and no hiring is anticipated. The longer 12-hour shifts would simply increase dispatcher stress, leading to more mistakes, sick leave and resignations, the dispatchers said. The District’s police officers’ union also weighed in on the proposal, noting several recent high-profile errors by the center’s dispatchers. Last November, an officer was stabbed and radioed for help, but the radio dispatcher lost track of the officer, and assistance was delayed. Read more about the situation here.

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.