The increasing dependence of the public on text messaging to stay in touch has created pressure to implement 911 text messaging, but that service may not be as popular or as necessary as initially believed. A just-issued White Paper by the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO) outlines options for handling 911 texting before construction of a Next Generation 911 (NG911) network, and also reveals that one test agency has received just a single 911 text message in two years of operation. The 25-page document acknowledges that Blackhawk County (Iowa) was the first PSAP to receive 911 text messages in June 2009, although only via a single carrier and focused on those with speech and hearing impairments. But after this and other early deployments, APCO notes that public safety stakeholders, “are still faced with the conundrum of trying to identify and implement solutions that are workable on a national scale.” [click to continue…]
A routine Sunday morning in Oak Creek (Wisc.) was interrupted by gunfire, sending police officers to a local Sikh mosque where they found six people shot dead, three wounded, and then came under fire themselves from a deranged man. Logging tapes created by a scannerist Web site documented the incident and were available almost immediately. One officer was seriously wounded by the suspect’s gunfire but is expected to survive. The gunman then confronted a second arriving officer, and was killed by the officer’s return fire. The incident develops quickly and with minimal radio traffic, according to the logging tapes, as the dispatcher handles 911 calls and officers confront the suspect. According to tapes, originally posted from RadioReference.com, the first 911 call reported only a disturbance at the mosque, located in a mostly suburban area of a town south of Milwaukee. However, additional callers reported gunfire at the scene and provided the description of a bald man in a white T-shirt. Radio traffic quickly turned from routine to emergency when an officer reported, “Officer’s down.” Listen to the radio traffic here (Several channels were being scanned to create the tape, so routine traffic on other channels is interspersed with the main channel’s emergency traffic.). Update: The Milwaukee County sheriff later released the logging tapes of 911 calls that they handled separately from the Oak Creek PD.
After four days of civil trial testimony, the Charlotte County (Fla.) Sheriff’s Office announced that it had reached a settlement in the lawsuit brought by the husband of Denise Lee, ending emotional testimony that recalled the day in 2008 when she was kidnapped from her home, raped and shot to death. Terms of the settlement were not announced, but Lee had claimed damages of $750,000 based on the effect of Denise Lee’s death on her two young children. The suspect in Lee’s murder was convicted and sentenced to death in 2009. Beyond the lawsuit, Lee continues to press for mandatory state-level training by public safety dispatchers, hoping to prevent future mistakes that could result in an innocent person’s death. According to Lee’s lawsuit, a motorist dialed 911 to report seeing a person in distress inside a vehicle, but that information was not promptly relayed to deputies. Denise Lee was inside that vehicle, but deputies never received a radio BOLO, and her body wasn’t found until the next day. Two dispatchers were disciplined for the mistake, but no one was fired. Lee’s efforts on mandatory training were rewarded last year when the Florida legislature required mandatory training for dispatchers, effective this October. [click to continue…]
In the wake of a destructive storm that swept the midwest and east coast last June, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is asking for input from stakeholders on how the nation’s 911 networks can be protected against future weather events. The storm arose quickly with tornado-like winds and heavy rain, knocking down trees and utility poles, which in turn interrupted electric power and communications over a wide area. In its Public Notice, the FCC said there were “isolated breakdowns” among 911 networks in Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, and Pennsylvania, and system-wide failures in northern Virginia and West Virginia. “It appears that a significant number of 9-1-1 systems and services were partially or completely down for several days,” the FCC said. The FCC activated its Operations Center 24-7 to collect network status information and expedite any regulatory requirements needed to speed restoration of critical systems. Now, after gathering facts on the storm’s damage, the FCC is expanding its inquiry by asking for feedback from the public and public safety agencies on the storm’s impact and effects. Among the questions the FCC raises are: causes of 911 or telephone outages, how did service providers become aware that 911 outages had occurred, what role did the availability or absence of back-up power for network equipment play in 911 outages, is there an estimate of how many 911 calls could not be completed at all or only through alternate means, and to what extent does the public have more than one way to reach 9-1-1 that are not reliant on each other? Download (pdf) the FCC’s Public Notice here. [click to continue…]
The trunked radio system used by the Oakland (Calif.) police and fire departments is actually a collection of subsystems linked together over the past 19 years, according to a consultant, which will make it more difficult to fix reception and reliability problems reported by the two departments. RCC Consultants Inc. submitted its report to the city last May, but it was just now presented to the city council and released to the public. The city has one of the longest-running projects in the U.S. to improve radio communications, starting with a GE trunked system in 1993. The city now uses a Harris Corp., three-site, 10-channel, P25 trunked system covering 54 square miles. Along the way there have been various upgrades to the system, many accompanied by incompatibilities between old and new components and software. “At no time since 1993 has the entire system actually been re-engineered or replaced at the same time as part of a single system,” RCC noted. As a result, both the police and fire departments report many problems, including poor coverage, cross-channel interference, radios transmitting on the wrong channel, and poor transmission when a siren is audible in the background. RCC presented several options to the city, including a complete radio system replacement, and joining an in-progress regional radio network. Download (pdf) the full RCC report here. [click to continue…]
Faced with the question of whether 13 public safety communications centers is too many for San Mateo County (N. Calif.), a civil grand jury has concluded the answer is “No,” for both operational and financial reasons. The county has 15 fire departments and 16 law enforcement agencies south of San Francisco. In a 12-page report issued last week, the grand jury noted the county originally had 22 centers, but had reduced that number over the past 12 years. Now, stand-alone centers spend an average of $30.04 per call for dispatching, while agencies using contract dispatching spend just $18.45 per call, about 39 percent less. The report also said that many stand-alone centers have no back-up dispatching plans, and have only a single dispatcher on-duty during some periods. “Elected officials in some cities have been reluctant to consolidate police dispatch,” the report stated. The grand jury recommended the county continue pushing to consolidate, and create back-up dispatching procedures. They also suggested that some smaller agencies might perform their own dispatching during business hours, but then have a larger center provide dispatching services at other times so no agency has lone dispatchers on-duty. Download (pdf) the grand jury’s report here.
The San Francisco (Calif.) board of supervisors is scheduled to approve a $762,000 settlement payment today for a lawsuit filed by a public safety dispatcher alleging sexual harassment, gender discrimination, retaliation and computer crimes. Anne Raskin claims in her lawsuit that starting in 2002 she was treated unfairly by the night-shift supervisors, called names and harassed. In 2008 she openly complained about mismanagement at the city’s comm center that handles police, fire and EMS incidents. However, her supervisors ignored her complaints, her lawsuit states, and began retaliating against her. In 2009 she became the focus of an internal investigation, and the primary evidence was Yahoo emails that Moyland says the city illegally accessed from her personal account. Raskin filed a federal lawsuit in 2010 and asked for $3 million in damages. Earlier this year a federal court jury found for Raskin, and held both the city and two comm center supervisors liable for damages. Now the board of supervisors is expected to consider the settlement payment at its meeting today. Download (pdf) the lawsuit complaint, the city’s answer and selected court documents here.
A change in Florida law means that businesses with automated external defibrillators (AED) will be able to register the devices with public safety comm centers, who would notify them when a nearby medical incident occurs. Several counties are planning to update their CAD software to store AED location data, especially for campus-type locations where employees could respond quicker than fire or EMS units. House Bill 801 was signed into law earlier this year, and became effective July 1st. Specifically, the bill (pdf) amends certain state medical privacy laws to allow dispatchers to notify a nearby AED owner when a “confirmed coronary call is taking place.” The bill also amends existing law to add public safety answering points (PSAP) to a section that encourages AED owners to notify their local EMS director. Collier County, for example, currently has 700 businesses with an AED, according to county EMS officials. Owners in the county can register on-line at the National AED Registry or through the county’s Web site.
The nation’s 8,300 public safety answering points (PSAP) generate an average of 630 requests each day for cellular subscriber information, according to data gathered by U.S. Rep. Edward Markey in response to his privacy concerns. However, that figure is swamped by at least 3,200 other daily requests for information from law enforcement agencies using subpoenas and search warrants. Markey sent letters to the nation’s major wireless carriers after he read an article in The New York Times about how cellular handsets are tracked by law enforcement agencies, and mostly without any judicial oversight. “We cannot allow privacy protections to be swept aside with the sweeping nature of these information requests, especially for innocent consumers,” Markey wrote. He asked the carriers to respond to several questions, including the policies and procedures for providing information to law enforcement agencies. All responded that they do require a valid subpoena or search warrant for subscriber information, except in cases where the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) allows the release of information when there is the possibility of death or serious physical injury. Only AT&T Wireless and U.S. Cellular provided specific numbers for PSAP requests. However, their figures provide guidance to calculate an estimate of total PSAP requests of about 233,000 a year, or about 18 percent of the total requests from law enforcement. Download (pdf) the carriers’ response letters to Market and view a chart after the break. [click to continue…]
The days of rampant cellular handset thefts may be slowly coming to an end, as next week AT&T will offer the ability to completely block handsets from their network after they’re reported stolen by the owner. AT&T is the first wireless carrier to create a GSM-based blocked handset database, which was recommended by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) earlier this year to help reduce handset thefts. Carriers in other countries have offered handset blocking for several years, and handset theft rates there are much lower than in the United States. The block list uses the unique device ID assigned to each handset, the IMEI, which is independent of the telephone number, account number or other IDs stored on the handset’s SIM card. The ID can only be bypassed or changed using sophisticated techniques that most criminals don’t know about or don’t use. Up to now, AT&T and other carriers have recorded handset IMEIs in their subscriber database, but haven’t used the numbers for anti-theft purposes. [click to continue…]
Starting today, the National Weather Service (NWS) began transmitting nationwide warning of certain weather condition to smartphones in the affected geographic areas. The alerts are being sent via the new Wireless Emergency Alerts network that connects government agencies, including the President of the United States, to cellular carriers and their subscribers. The alert system is designated as “opt-out,” meaning that every cellular phone will receive appropriate message unless they specifically choose not to receive the alerts. There is no subscriber cost to receive the messages. According to the NWS, the alerts will be sent only for conditions the agency now describes as a “warning,” which includes the most imminent types of approaching weather, including tornadoes, tsunamis, hurricanes, ice and dust storms, flash flooding or blizzards. The alerts will be sent only to subscribers who are currently active to a cellular antenna tower in the affected warning area, usually one or more counties. As other mobile handsets enter the affected area, they will also receive the alerts. A typical alert would state, “Tornado Warning in his area til 18:30 tzT. Take shelter now. — NWS” The text message is accompanied by an audible alert and the handset vibrates. Not all handsets area compatible with the new alerting system, including the iPhone. The CTIA, a national cellular group, has more information about the status of how cellular carriers are transmitting alerts.
A woman who was kidnapped and held by a deranged couple for nine months in 2003 is now endorsing a free smartphone app to make emergency notifications during what the software developer calls “times of need.” The app is among dozens of similar smartphone software intended to improve personal safety by sending text messages, emails or other data to designated people, but which all have serious flaws. Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped at knifepoint from her bedroom in Salt Lake City (Utah) when she was 14 years old. Her sister provided a critical lead in the case, leading to the identification of the couple, and to her rescue when a passerby spotted the suspects walking with Smart along a highway. Now, in a press release accompanied by a strangely glamorous photo of Smart, software developer Apptooth describes the features, including the ability to press an on-screen icon to, “share instant video, audio and GPS coordinates with his or her social network and other HERO app users within a five-mile radius using the latest geo-location technology.” App users can also invite friends and family to join the HERO network, and track the real-time location of Facebook friends and family. The press release notes, “Time is of the essence in cases of abductions, robberies, stolen property, car accidents, lost pets and numerous other similar situations.” The app does not make any telephone calls, including to 911. The messages it does send don’t provide any acknowledgement of receipt, and could be delayed or not sent at all because of cellular or other network connection problems. The company includes a disclaimer in all-capital letters: “The HERO app is not an emergency service and does not replace any local authorities, missing persons notifications or national amber alerts. Apptooth encourages you to first call 911 and/or contact the appropriate local authorities in the case of any serious emergency.” [click to continue…]
A series of letters to U.S. 911 centers from a new technology company has raised eyebrows over the service it provides, how it’s funded and how it might fit with 911 in the future. The episode put a spotlight on several companies that are marketing add-on products to existing 911 networks, even in the face of imminent technology changes that will convert 911 to a national, IP-based network. The letters began arriving last week from 911 Emergency Assist, according to several comm center managers. The letter invited centers to activate a pre-created Web account, and it provided a username and password. Essentially, the service allows citizens to subscribe for $99 (family plan) a year, store information that would be useful during and after an emergency, and for public safety dispatchers to access that information. Apparently as an incentive, participating comm centers would receive 50¢ per month for each subscriber within the agency’s jurisdiction. The service is scheduled to go live next month, and is now soliciting both comm centers participants and subscribing customers. The letters immediately raised questions from comm center managers, some involving the funding method for the service, others about procedural, privacy and liability issues, the technology, and how the service would integrate with future 911 technology plans. Several other companies provide emergency information services intended to provide 911 calltakers with caller or patient information, most notably the Smart911 service by Rave Mobile Safety. Read the company’s clarification of the service after the break. Update: In response to member concerns, on July 2nd the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) sent a formal letter of inquiry (pdf) to 911 Emergency Assist, asking specific questions about its service. [click to continue…]
Milwaukee (Wisc.) police dispatcher Keena Woods-Smith fielded a call last Sunday from a woman who reported her boyfriend had a gun to her head and was threatening to shoot himself. Woods-Smith used the “I” word repeatedly to connect with the man, and eventually he put the gun down. She modestly said she wasn’t the hero, and that she was proud of the man for doing the right thing.