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The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has proposed a pair of rules that would ease local restrictions on constructing new cellular facilities, and spur carrier competition to toughen their networks for disaster communications. In both cases, the FCC said the changes would improve emergency communications for the public through less regulation and improved network reliability. In the first Notice  of Proposed Rulemaking, the FCC proposes to make public the percentage of cellular sites that are operational during and just after disaster, by individual carrier. Currently, the carriers report these figures, but they are not considered public. In a strange analysis, the FCC said more specifically that releasing outage data to the public would likely save one life every five years, producing an “annual benefit” of $1.82 million based on the “statistical value of life.” On the other hand, the extra cost to wireless carrier of reporting the data would be only $78,000, the FCC calculated. The Commission also tried to calculate the value of losing cellular service, but said, “We cannot know the value of being able to call more easily loved ones and friends,” or contacting first responders.

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An investigation into claims of improper conduct by members of the FirstNet governing board has found no evidence that documents were improperly withheld, members met privately to make decisions, or that they failed to comply with legally established duties. In a 10-page report issued last Friday, FirstNet’s Special Review Committee put to rest allegations that have dogged the project to bring wireless broadband to every public safety agency in America. The project is about 18 months old, and is still in the early planning and administrative stage. Complaints were raised by Stark County (Ia.) sheriff Paul Fitzgerald at a FirstNet board meeting last April. He complained about secret meeting of board members, withheld financial information, conflicts of interest, and that some officials had been deliberately excluded from the early planning process. In May the board voted to investigate the complaints, leading to the formation of a special committee. Now, in its report, that committee said it reviewed documents and interviewed board members to determine that pre-meetings and bi-weekly telephone calls among board members, “did not constitute decision-making,” and were appropriate and legal. In fact, the committee concluded that these contacts among members did not even help move the board members to a consensus on the issues under discussion. As for withheld information, the committee found that it was instead delayed information, caused when refinements and changes were made to financial figures. The Special Review Committee noted that allegations of ethics and procurement violations were still being investigated, and will be addressed in a separate report. Download (pdf) the committee’s complete report here.

Charleston County (SC) sheriff’s investigators have arrested a 911 center calltaker on criminal charges after they found she took at least 45 telephone calls for servie since last January, but failed to enter information for a police or medical response. The arrest is a rare response to allegations of misconduct by a public safety dispatcher in the U.S. Dezerea Shelton, 27,  was fired Sept. 5th, officials say, and now faces obstruction of justice and misconduct in office charges. She’s jailed on $40,000 bail. Comm center officials began an investigation earlier this month when a citizen complained that police never showed up when he reported a burglary in progress at a neighbor’s house. Police in Mount Pleasant said they were never notified of the incident. Logging tapes confirmed that Shelton fielded the man’s two 911 calls, but that no incident was ever entered into computer-aided dispatch (CAD) for dispatch to officers. Further investigation showed that Shelton had similarly failed to enter incidents for 45 other incidents dating back to Jan. 8th of this year. One incident was medical-related, and the others required a law enforcement response. No injuries were reported as a result of Shelton’s actions, officials said. The motive for Shelton’s inaction is unknown, officials said, and there seems to be no pattern to the types of calls she mishandled. Jim Lake, 911 center director, said supervisors are increasing their review of call reports to insure calltakers and dispatchers are properly handling telephone calls and incident dispatches. Earlier this month Detroit officials said they were considering criminal charges against two dispatcher who failed to promptly dispatch officers to critical incidents. Update: The Post and Courier newspaper did a follow-up on the situation, but no motive for Shelton’s inaction has been identified.

Friends and co-workers of a New Orleans (La.) police dispatcher are mourning her murder on Wedesnday night, along with her adult son and daughter. It was the second tragic death of a dispatcher at the center within the past week. Christine George, 39, was a four-year veteran of the center, and her death has significantly impacted the center, officials said. Police said George was shot and killed outside her home. Arriving police found her 18 year-old son and 20 year-old daughter shot and killed inside a nearby garage. Police have a person of interest, but have made no arrests. Grief counselors have been made available to 911 center employees, said Orleans Parish Communications District chair Terry Ebert. “This obviously impacts all the employees because that’s a very small group of people,” he told a reporter. Sadly, a second dispatcher died earlier this week in a traffic accident. Paulette Brown, 51, was a 32-year veteran of the agency and was enroute to work last Saturday when her car was hit by a suspected DUI motorist. Brown was taken off life support on Sunday, and died soon after. Her organs were donated to several other people. Read more about Ms. George here, and about Ms. Brown here. [click to continue…]

The mayor of Cleveland (Ohio) has disciplined the 911 calltaker who fielded a 911 call from one of three women who escaped 10 years of captivity and torture, saying he should have been more compassionate with the woman and should have stayed on the line as police responded. In a letter released last Friday, mayor Frank Jackson announced he has issued a written reprimand to dispatcher Jack Purdy, a four-year veteran of the city’s comm center. Jackson said he considered Purdy’s work ethic and minor disciplinary history when making his decision. “After speaking with you I believe that you understand how your actions violated (the center’s) policy and I am confident that you will learn from your mistake,” the mayor wrote. It was Purdy who answered a 911 from Amanda Berry last May, reporting that she had just escaped from the home of kidnapper Ariel Castro. Police arrived within minutes and rescued Berry and two other woman, and later arrested Castro. Last month Purdy waived his right to a formal hearing, and met with Jackson to discuss the allegations that he failed to follow comm center policies. During that meeting Jackson told Purdy that, “You could have demonstrated more empathy and could have been more compassionate in your dealing with Ms. Berry.” The mayor also noted, “Without question, you should have kept her on the line as I believe that that simple, required act would have enhanced her sense of safety.” Purdy agreed to plead “no contest” to the misconduct charges, and to accept whatever discipline Jackson decided to impose. Download (pdf) the mayor’s discipline letter for more details, and listen to the 911 call here.

In the face of continuing complaints about poor service at Detroit’s (Mich.) police communications center, and after two response delays that ended with fatal shooting, the city’s police chief has demoted the comm center commander and is considering criminal neglect of duty charges for the two dispatchers involved the murder incidents. ““Status quo, complacency, mediocrity will not be tolerated,” police chief James Craig said during a news conference yesterday. He announced that Cmd. Todd Bettison had been demoted to the rank of Inspector. He said both dispatchers who handled the incidents last week and in August had been suspended without pay. Craig has also ordered a complete review of comm center operations. The Wayne County prosecutor told reporters that criminal complaints had been prepared against the unnamed dispatcher in the earlier incident. However, the complaint was returned to police for more investigation. Craig took over as chief last July, but complaints about the comm center have been constant for at least a year before that. In the latest case, police said the victim’s daughter dialed 911 six times, and a Priority 1 incident was entered in the computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system. However, a male radio dispatcher deliberately held the incident until after a shift change, even though officers were available to respond. Finally, units were dispatched 75 minutes after the first 911 call. By then, the victim was shot in the chest with an AK-47, but survived.

In response to high-profile medical incident in Bakersfield (Calif.) earlier this year, the California state legislature has passed a bill that prohibits employers from establishing a policy against employees providing CPR voluntarily. Assembly Bill 663 helps to extend the existing liability protections that ordinary citizens have if they voluntarily provide medical assistance to victims of an emergency. The bill was sparked by a 911 call from an independent living center last March reporting a woman had collapsed. The caller was a nurse employee of the center, and explained to the dispatcher that providing medical assistance was against her employer’s policies. On the logging tape of the call, a dispatcher repeatedly asked the nurse to begin CPR or to flag down a passerby to help. Later, the company that operates the center said the nurse misunderstood the policy on providing medical aid. The bill has been sent to Gov. Jerry Brown for his signature. Download (pdf) the bill and the legislative analysis for more details.

Antoinette Tuff is the type of person that every dispatcher should hope is on the other end of a  911 call. What’s more, Tuff is just the type of person you hope is calling when a mentally unstable man with an AK-47 walks into an an elementary school and begins firing off rounds. In fact, Tuff was the bookkeeper at Ronald E. McNair Discvoer Learning Academy in Dekalb (Geo.) last Tuesday when Michael Hill walked into the school’s entrance, and it was Tuff who dialed 911 for help. Over the next 24 minutes Tuff talked kindly to Hill, relayed information to Dekalb County dispatcher dispatcher Kendra McCray, and even used the school’s intercom to give students and teachers safety information. Meanwhile, scores of police surrounded the building, prepared to move but waiting on every bit of information that Tuff was providing to McCray. At one point Hill came outside the building and fired several rounds—police later said he was carrying 500 rounds of ammunition. Incredibly, as the situation dragged on, Tuff began telling Hill her own life story, complete with its serious ups and downs. At the end, she had him empty his pockets and take off his backpack. Police then entered the school and came to the office. Several shots were exchanged, but Hill was taken into custody without injuries. Listen to the entire amazing 911 call here. Update: Tuff and McCray were emotionally reunited on Anderson Cooper 360. [click to continue…]

A Cincinnati (Ohio) city council member has introduced a regulation that would require all dispatchers to be trained for emergency medical dispatch (EMD) before they can answer 911 calls. The amendment to the city’s employment regulations was sparked by a local TV reporter’s investigation of mandatory overtime in the comm center. Not all dispatchers are certified on EMD, and when a dispatcher must work overtime to fill an empty position, a non-certified may find themselves fielding 911 calls. “Never again,” vows council member Charlie Winburn, who introduced the proposed regulation. Read more here, and download (pdf) proposed regulation here. Watch a TV news report after the break. [click to continue…]

The announcement today that the Amherst (Ohio) Police Department dispatchers are now accepting text messages has a futuristic ring to it. But a closer reading of the technology shows the agency is taking a lower-tech approach to connecting with smartphones. The department hopes to tap into a younger group of people who use text messaging, and will be putting up posters about the program in local junior high schools and high schools. Police chief Joseph Kucirek said in a press release, “Your tips and non-emergency questions can be sent directly to the dispatcher on duty who has the ability to respond as time permits.” To implement the text messaging capability, the department ported one of its existing detective bureau telephone numbers to a cellular phone. The phone’s text messaging account is then accessed by a desktop computer in the comm center. [This capability is available using iMessage on an iPhone, but it’s unknown if this is being used by APD.] Kucirek included warnings that emergencies should still be reported by a 911 call, never to text while driving, and prank or malicious texts would be traced. He also told texters, “When you do text our dispatch center, please give the dispatcher several minutes to respond. Kucirek told texters that if they don’t get a response in “a reasonable amount of time, please call one of our non-emergency phone lines.” Read the full story here.

Detroit (Mich.) fire officials say they will revise a policy of not notifying citizens or the police department when ambulances aren’t available to immediately respond to incidents. A directive issued earlier this month told fire dispatchers they weren’t required to notate “N.U.A.” (no unit available) in the computer-aided dispatch (CAD) record, or notify the police department when ambulances were unavailable. The policy was immediately criticized by city and union officials, saying it put the public at risk. The comm center policy meant that patients often waited several hours for an ambulance instead of finding alternate transportation to a hospital. The city’s EMS system has been struggling under a heavy workload for at least five years, often staffing just seven to 10 ambulances for a city of 700,000. “We pretty much run no units available all the time,” Detroit EMS union president Joseph Barney told a reporter. He said earlier this month one ambulance handled 23 runs in a 12-hour shift. Police chief James Craig said the police department is assisting with EMS transports. In fact, he said officers are transporting about half the injured children they encounter at incidents because of the delayed arrival of an ambulance. Read the memo and read more here. [click to continue…]

A civil liberties group has filed a lawsuit against the city of Norristown (Penn.), claiming that a three-strikes law discourages apartment dwellers from dialing 911 for help and puts domestic violence victims in even more jeopardy than usual. The city enacted the law intending to improve living conditions within the city’s rental community, by forcing out tenants who generated chronic responses for the police. But the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) says in a lawsuit that it unfairly targets those who are victims of crime, and who cannot control the people who create crime in their apartments. The city law (pdf) sets up a procedure for the police chief to track his department’s responses to rental property occupants for reports “disorderly behavior.” The incidents can be reported by anyone, and include a wide range of crimes and behaviors. The city imposes fines on the property owner, but a fine is withheld if the offending if the owner has initiated eviction proceedings. In its lawsuit on behalf of Lakisha Briggs, who suffered visits by an ex-boyfriend and who was reluctant to dial 911 for help because of the city law. Briggs was eventually hospitalized as the result of an assault by the man. The ACLU is asking the court to invalidate the law on constitutional grounds. The city has responded that he law is constitutional and is Many cities have similar laws to discourage on-going police responses to the same location. The laws are divided into two types: those that focus on only noise complaints or rowdy behavior, and those that include more serious criminal behavior that results in a specific victim. Download (pdf) the ACLU’s lawsuit for more details, and read more about Ms. Briggs here. [For a more academic view, review a study by a Harvard University professor of so-called “nuisance laws.” The study / city comparison]

The Norfolk (Virg.) dispatcher who posted a comment on her Facebook page about an officer-involved shooting has been fired, but is appealing the action with an attorney who says the city failed to follow proper personnel procedures. Jessica Camirillo admits that her remarks were inappropriate and has publicly apologized. She says her firing has been devastating to her family, and that she may have to move out of her apartment. The city does not have a social media policy, and city officials say they cannot discuss Camarillo’s firing because it’s a personnel issue.

Statistics gathered by a California public safety group show that the state’s cellular carriers are delivering fewer 911 calls with full location information, delaying responses and putting the public at risk. Now the California chapter of the National Emergency Number Association (CAL-NENA) is calling on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to take action by forcing the carriers to meet existing regulations on delivering accurate locations for all cellular phones that have dialed 911. According to data collected by CAL-NENA, less than 45 percent of the 1.6 million wireless 911 calls made within the state during March 2013 were accompanied by Phase II data, the location of the caller. Instead, carriers delivered Phase I data, which is the location of the receiving antenna tower, a less useful piece of information for someone who needs help. In fact, data independently collected by CAL-NENA from five jurisdictions shows that Sprint delivers Phase II data for just 19 percent of the 911 calls it handles. Verizon Wireless performs the best, but still only provides Phase II for 57 percent of calls for the selected agencies. FCC regulations require cellular carriers to deliver the caller’s location for every 911 call, if the handling comm center is equipped to handle the data and has made a formal request of the carrier. With rare exceptions, every comm center in California is equipped and has made such a request. In a CAL-NENA letter to the FCC, chapter president Danita Crombach noted that assisted global positioning system (A-GPS) technology may be a factor in the declining number. However, the exact cause of the declining delivery of Phase II data has not been explained by the carriers, the state’s 911 agency or the FCC. [click to continue…]

After almost four years of legal issues, funding fights, contract reversals and vendor competition, the Los Angeles region’s radio authority is set to approve a $280 million contract with Motorola for a unified public safety communications network. According to agenda documents, tomorrow the Los Angeles Regional Interoperable Communications System (LA-RICS) will approve the contract to stitch together 32 antenna sites, 326 frequency pairs and a variety of existing and new radio technology to provide voice communications for up to 64,000 users. Planning for the network began in 2010 and seemed to be proceeding normally. However, during negotiations the next year with the only other bidder, Raytheon Company, the project suddenly derailed. Legal analysis of the bid documents revealed several elements that violated state bidding regulations. The entire bid process up to that point was abandoned and the project was restarted in 2012. Meanwhile, the universe of public safety radio has been swirling with 700/800 MHz technical and regulatory changes, and various grant funding has come and gone. The LA-RICS project includes 86 jurisdictions of all sizes and in every corner of the 4,000 square-mile county. The final radio system will mainly consist of a P25 Phase 2 system using 700 and T-band frequencies. Several existing public safety radio systems will overlay the LA-RICS network and there will be extensive connections among the various components. If approved by the board, the project would be completed in five phases over the next 15 years. Download (pdf) a summary of the project bid, or the entire contract (large file, 1000+ pages).