Members of Congress have agreed to include wireless spectrum provisions in a hotly-debated bill to extend a payroll tax reduction, possibly giving public safety dedicated frequencies for a nationwide network and $6 billion in funding to build and operate it. The entire legislative package is due for a vote on Friday, and indications are that it will pass and be signed by President Obama. Public safety groups have been lobbying Congress for over six years to obtain dedicated spectrum and funding, but the nation’s economy has pushed the proposed legislation down the list of Congressional priorities. Public safety amendments have been included in previous proposed legislation, but were always removed before final passage. Just this week Republicans and Democrats agreed to compromise on legislation to extend a reduction in worker payroll taxes. Long-time Congressional supporters of the public safety D Block spectrum plan managed to insert the spectrum language within the payroll tax legislation, part of an amendment to auction off a block of spectrum now assigned to television broadcasters. Under the plan agreed to by Congressional negotiators on Wednesday, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) would auction off the TV band spectrum to commercial companies, raising up to $16 billion. The FCC would assign the D Block of spectrum to public safety, and Congress would allocate about $6 billion of the auction proceeds to build the nationwide public safety network. The legislation also includes several other public safety sections, including funding for radio and NG911 projects. If the legislation passes, it might take the FCC several years to hold the auction and for radio network funding to become available to public safety. Read reaction to the proposal from two public safety groups after the break. Download (pdf) a copy of the proposed legislation (see Section 6000). read more
The handling of a 911 call to a Washington state communications center is just one inquiry into a complicated and long-running case that involves two states, several state and county agencies, a missing woman and the welfare of two young children. In its simplest terms, a state court allowed Josh Powell supervised visits with his two sons, ages 5 and 7. But under pressure from Utah police investigating his missing wife, and his alleged possession of pornography, Powell dowsed his Pierce County home in gasoline on Feb. 5th. When a visitation supervisor arrived at Powell’s house with the two children, Powell let the children inside, then slammed the front door, locking out the supervisor. Within minutes he ignited the gasoline, turning the house into an inferno, killing himself and his two boys. Outside, the visitation supervisor immediately dialed 911 and tried to explain the situation to a calltaker at the Law Enforcement Support Agency (LESA) comm center. In an interview with NBC’s “Dateline NBC,” 18-year LESA dispatcher Dave Lovrak admitted that he misinterpreted the supervisor’s information, not realizing it was so urgent. read more
The husband of a Florida kidnap-murder victim has joined the state’s chapter of the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO) to urge legislators amend a proposed bill that would allow law enforcement officers to work as dispatchers without hands-on training. House Bill 1227 was introduced to allow public safety agency to retain some flexibility in staffing communications centers when dispatchers aren’t available. It has already been approved by two legislative committees, and was scheduled for a third committee hearing last Tuesday. Currently, the state’s dispatchers are working to complete mandatory training certification before an Oct. 2012 deadline. Their training includes a hands-on component that law enforcement officers would not have to complete under the proposed bill. But Nathan Lee, husband of Denise Lee who was murdered in Jan. 2008, says in a letter to legislators that, “Unfamiliarity with the use of the CAD system is EXACTLY what allowed Denise to be murdered.” He noted that the calltaker in the incident was “confused and untrained with entering call details into the CAD and instead would write the call details on a piece of paper and yell them across the room to the dispatchers.” The APCO chapter also has urged the legislator to include a hands-on training component before allowing law enforcement officers to dispatch. Download (pdf) the House committee’s information packet on the bill here, and a letter to a legislator from Nathan Lee, Denise’s father and Denise’s mother-in-law here. The APCO chapter of Florida has posted a call to action (pdf) and sample letter to state legislators.
A Florida appellate court has overturned the assault conviction of a man who was telephoned by a county 911 dispatcher, saying state law narrowly restricts the non-consent recording of out-going calls to those numbers that have already dialed 911. In this case, the original 911 call came from a woman reporting her daughter was being assaulted by her husband, and gave the Escambia County dispatcher the telephone number for the daughter at another location. The dispatcher then called that number, which was answered by the husband. There was screaming and yelling in the background of the call, and the dispatcher heard the husband verbally threaten to shoot his wife and himself. Deputies responded and arrested the husband for the assault and drug possession. The husband appealed his guilty plea, saying the call to his house was recorded, which is not permitted by Florida law without his consent. The District Court of Appeal agreed, saying the legislature had specifically granted certain exceptions to the state’s prohibition on recording phone calls, including incoming 911 calls, and out-going calls from a dispatcher to the same telephone number that dialed 911 (in the case a call was dropped, for example). The court noted that dispatchers can make out-going calls and record them, but they must obtain the consent of the person with whom they speak. In this case, the number dialed was different than the original 911 call, and consent was not obtained from the husband to record the call. Download (pdf) the full appellate court ruling here.
A former Los Angeles police department dispatcher, and current California legislator is proposing that 911 logging tapes involving medical incidents be withheld from the public. Assemblywoman Norma Torres says 911 calls like the one just made by friends of Demi Moore should not be made public, considering the confidential nature of the incidents. Torres is serving her second term in the legislature, and represents parts of Ontario, Pomona, Montclair and Chino in southern California. She spent 18 years with LAPD, was elected to the Pomona city council, and was then inspired to run for state office. ”When it comes to medical calls, there ought to be some standards and those standards should apply to 911 calls,” Torres told reporters. Right now, California law only allows certain information to be redacted from logging tapes, including names of juveniles and certain witnesses, and investigative information. Torres has not yet introduced a bill in the legislature, but is seeking support from fellow legislators. Read a newspaper columnist’s opinion of the proposed law, and a newspaper editorial on the subject.
A Toronto (Ont.) coroner’s inquest heard testimony from EMS comm center supervisors that a union-called strike may have forced them to perform several tasks at once, on the same night a heart attack victim waited 35 minutes for an ambulance. James Hearst, 59, appeared intoxicated to a caller in the lobby of an apartment building in June 2009, and an ambulance crew decided to stage and wait for police for 20 minutes, rather than immediately respond to the scene. But EMS dispatcher Ryan Leblanc testified Monday that he may have been performing multiple tasks when he took the 911 call reporting Hearst. “A lot of…jobs were condensed so that one person would be doing more than one job,” he told the panel. It’s not clear from the testimony if staffing contributed to the delayed response. Read more about the incident here and Leblanc’s testimony here.
A deeply-buried subcommittee within the federal government has issued an “extended essay” on the subject of nationwide, public safety communications, documenting its desirable features, while not breaking any new ground. The examination was prompted last June by a request from the country’s Chief Technology Officer to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). In turn, the NIST assigned the task to the Visiting Committee on Advanced Technology (VCAT), who handed it off to the subcommittee on Public Safety Networks. The final report notes the required flexibility, use of IP protocols, backward and forward compatibility, security and ruggedization features. It also said that a future system would require an app development process. Download (pdf) the full VCAT document here, and read the NIST’s press release on the report after the break. read more
If you happened to meet a Bethlehem (Penn.) police officer, you’d never know he might be wearing a silent protest to the department’s computer-aided dispatch (CAD) software underneath his uniform. In fact, some officers are wearing “CODY SUX” t-shirts under their uniform shirts, a protest to the $770,000 CAD and records system that was installed in 2008. The system was originally intended to streamline the flow of information for patrol officers and dispatchers. However, now officers say the system is more of a hindrance than a help, with frequent computer crashes and other glitches. Mayor John Callahan says public safety hasn’t been compromised, and executives at CODY Computer Services Inc., which supplied the system, say they haven’t received any problem reports from the city during the past six months. City officials claim CODY told them the system problems could be fixed for $100,000, but CODY executives dispute that figure. City officials have filed a formal notice of a possible breach of contract lawsuit against CODY, and have made inquiries about possibly replacing the entire system. Read more about the situation here.
The Garland County (Ark.) Sheriff’s Department says it has a person of interest in the murder of Hot Springs Village dispatcher Dawna Natzke, and her family is hoping someone will come forward with information for an arrest. Natzke went missing last Dec. 23rd, and her body was found in a local pond on New Year’s Eve. Read about a memorial service for Natzke held earlier this month.
The San Jose (Calif.) Police Department hopes to eliminate 15,700 responses in 2012 after the city council approved a verified burglar alarm policy. As one element to improve street patrol staffing, police will now respond only to burglar alarms when there is additional information that a crime is actually occurring. Panic, duress and robbery alarms will continue to receive a response, as well as burglar alarms at firearms dealers, banks, ATM’s and other critical locations. Police chief Chris Moore noted that several other cities have adopted a verified policy, including Salt Lake City (Utah), and have experienced no change in crime that can be traced to the policy. Interestingly, Moore said that alarm companies attribute 80% of the alarms to just 20% of premise owners, and suggest focusing on chronic alarms. But Moore said studies by other cities show a wider responsibility for false alarms among property owners. Download (pdf) Moore’s report to a city council committee on the proposal, and read more about the policy here.
A man in the town of Santee (S. Calif.) dialed 911 when his wife was giving birth, and received assistance from Heartland Fire Communications dispatcher Alicia Perry. The center handles incidents for 20 member and contract departments from a six-position comm center in the city of El Cajon east of San Diego.
As part of a larger crisis response project, Google Maps has today launched a Public Alerts Web page, showing the locations of weather, earthquakes, floods and other location-specific incidents. For example, today’s map shows flooding in northern Indiana and severe thunderstorm warning in Louisiana. In a blog posting, Public Alerts engineer Steve Hakusa says, “We’re learning as we go.” He does not say how quickly information from various federal government sources will be posted on the maps. A question-and-answer page says Google will expand the range of alert sources over time, including state and private sources. Google already provides a Common Alerting Protocol-based service to which local public safety agencies can subscribe, and transmit emergency or urgent information. View the Public Alerts map page. read more
A test of texting 911 in Durham (NC) has been extended by three months to collect more data for a decision if the service should become permanent. The city, in collaboration with Intrado and Verizon Wireless, has been accepting text messages from citizens since August 2011, and routing them directly to the city’s public safety comm center for handling by dispatchers. The city has not reported on the level of success of texting 911, which is intended to help those with hearing disabilities and people who cannot directly make a voice call to 911. In a press release announcing the extension of the test period, comm center director James Soukup admitted, “There can be limitations to sending an emergency text message.” He said the city wants to thoroughly explore all the possible incident scenarios, “to see if this type of technology works and if any problems arise that must be corrected before ‘text-to-911’ technology could be implemented on a widespread level.” The press release lists several issues with text-to-911, including text messages take time to compose and transmit, only Verizon Wireless customers can text to 911 and significantly, “If customers are outside or near the edge of the county, the message may not reach the Durham Emergency Communications Center.” Read a list of all the limitations noted by the city after the break. read more
The union that represents a fired Licking County (Ohio) 911 dispatcher has filed a grievance with the county, saying the dispatcher accidentally failed to confirm a fire dispatch, and it was not a deliberate or malicious act. The county fired 5-year veteran Matt Wheeler after an investigation and disciplinary hearing. According to the county, Wheeler fielded a phone call last November from a citizen reporting a house fire. Wheeler believed that the fire station alerting system had been activated, when in fact, it had not. As a result, no paging tones were transmitted, and the Newark fire department was delayed by about four minutes. A mutual aid fire department arrived first and encountered the resident outside, who suffered burns and smoke inhalation. The county says Wheeler has previous discipline, including a two 15-day suspensions, separate verbal and written reprimands, and a one-day suspension. The union notes that the Wheeler’s actions were “human error, that can happen to anyone.” They ask that he be reinstated. Read more about the discipline here.
After three years of legal action, the state of New York has agreed to pay back $25 million to Tyco Electronics Corp., part of $50 million the state recovered after canceling the company’s contract for a state-wide public safety radio network. The $2 billion radio network was based on new technology, which the company claimed would provide adequate coverage. However, after many delays, few implementations and complaints of poor coverage, the state decided to end the contract. Upon cancellation in 2009, the state took $50 million from a line of credit posted by M/A-COM as part of its contract agreement. M/A-COM was later purchased by Tyco, who sued the state over the amount of money that it owed the state. In court documents filed this week, the state agreed to a partial refund. Download (pdf) an earlier Court of Claims document that describes the lawsuit.