As the year-end holidays approach and the nation slows down to celebrate, public safety groups remain in high gear, warning of Congressional legislation affecting spectrum allocations. Today the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO) asked its members to write members of Congress to express opposition to provisions of H.R. 3630, a bill passed by the house yesterday that includes a section for public safety to give back a previous allocation of spectrum in the 700 MHz band used for in-field data transmission. The group also expressed its support for the provisions in that same bill that allocate spectrum for a nationwide, public safety wireless network, which has long been sought by public safety agencies. The previous day the Public Safety Alliance (PSA) issued a press release with similar sentiments, saying the bill “takes two steps forward,” but then “takes three steps back” with its two spectrum provisions. Read the groups’ statements after the break. [click to continue…]
A House of Representatives sub-committee has approved an amendment to provide matching grants to local agencies for Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG911) systems, and upgrades to Phase II 911 equipment. The Next Generation 9-1-1 Advancement Act (H.R. 2629) would authorize up to $250 million in funding through 2017. It was introduced last July by Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.). The bill would also reauthorized funding for a federal NG911 coordination office, limit state-collected 911 surcharges to 911 projects, and require studies on multi-line telephone systems, liability protection for 911 agencies, long-term 911 system funding, and establishing a “do not call” registry for public safety answering points (PSAP). The bill was approved by the House sub-committee on Communications and Technology on an The National Emergency Number Association (NENA) praised passage of the bill out of committee, saying it was as important as other legislation now being considered to create a nationwide public safety wireless network. In a press release, NENA president Rick Galway said, “Alongside the other public safety measures included in both the majority and minority bills, now is clearly the right time for Congress to take up NG9-1-1 legislation.” He noted that NG911 would be particularly useful to those with hearing or speech disabilities. Download (pdf) a copy of the proposed amendment here. [click to continue…]
A Toronto (Ont.) newspaper who battled the city for access to fire department response time statistics has revealed that each step of handling an emergency incident exceeds recognized standards, leading to arrival times of eight minutes after a 911 call is placed. In a story on Tuesday, The Star newspaper said it takes 30 seconds on average to transfer a 911 to the fire department, while the standard is 15 seconds or less. Fire unit notification time averages 100 seconds, while the standard set by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) is 60 seconds. Turn-out time takes 185 seconds, compared to the standard of 80 seconds. Travel time is the only segment that closely approaches the standard—4½ minutes compared to four minutes for the standard. The newspaper requested the data gathered by an outside consultant just after it was published in 2009, and the city responded with a heavily-redacted document. The newspaper appealed the city’s claim of confidentiality, and eventually a provincial commission ordered the report released. Read more about the report here, and also a rebuttal to some of the newspaper’s conclusions here.
Officials in Delaware County (Okla.) acknowledge that a former 911 dispatch supervisor and dispatcher filed a federal sexual harassment lawsuits against the 911 agency back in 2009, but note that none of the participants still works for the county. Both lawsuits are still active in the U.S. District Court: Joey Lambert claims she was the subject of sexual harassment by former County E911 Trust Authority head Don Murphy, while Shelby Haggard states in her lawsuit that Murphy retaliated against when she took Lambert’s complaints to the Authority board. The county has denied the claims in both lawsuits, and none of the participants has been willing to speak with reporters. Lambert claims that Murphy asked her whether she had a boyfriend, grabbed and hugged her, and tried to kiss her. Murphy repeatedly telephoned Lambert, the lawsuit says, and eventually Lambert sought medical treatment, “for the anxiety and stress from sexual harassment.” Lambert reported Murphy’s activities to former sheriff Jay Blackfox, the district attorney and county commissioners, and later Murphy was placed on leave during an investigation. However, Haggard says weeks later Murphy demoted her, changed her duties, and docked her for unworked time, all in retaliation for her complaints. Read more about the lawsuits here, and download (pdf) the federal lawsuits and the county’s response here. Update: In April 2013 the women settled their lawsuits for $31,000 and $86,500 respectively.
The years-long legislative process to assign wireless spectrum to public safety for a nationwide network may be nearing a phase that feels like conclusion. U.S. Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) has introduced a discussion draft of legislation that would make the 20 MHz spectrum assignment, fund up to $10 billion to create the wireless network, create thousands of jobs and reduce the federal deficit by $15 billion. The Jumpstarting Opportunity with Broadband Spectrum (JOBS) Act of 2011 legislation is the latest of several attempts to gain control of the spectrum, which Congress originally intended to be auctioned to the highest bidder in 2008. However, when no bids were received that met the minimum price, the spectrum has been in limbo every since. Public safety officials had hoped that the recent “super committee” budget negotiations would include spectrum solutions, but the committee announced last week that it had failed to reach agreement on any budget matters. Yesterday, in a press release announcing the legislative draft intended to promote discussion of the issues, Walden said, “Congress has an obligation to give America’s wireless industry the tools it needs to do what it does best: innovate and create the kinds of jobs that will keep America’s economy competitive in the 21st century.” He acknowledged that, “No party, special interest, or lobby gets everything they want in this legislation.” But he reminded legislators of the important goals of jobs, public safety and deficit reduction. Typically, discussion drafts of legislation lead to a final proposed bill, which then follows the usual path through Congress. The process of adopting the bill could take many months. Download (pdf) the bill and other materials, and read public safety’s reaction after the break. [click to continue…]
Faced with higher costs and lower revenues, the Hamilton County (Tenn.) Emergency Communications District has filed a lawsuit against AT&T to protect its 911 revenue stream, alleging the company has knowingly underpaid state-required 911 fees. The amount of underpayments isn’t know, the district says in its federal lawsuit, because AT&T has filed inaccurate reports on the number of telephone lines that it operates, particularly for business customers. The district is asking for an injunction to compel AT&T to provide the telephone line information, unpaid 911 fees dating back to 2001, accumulated interest, punitive damages of $10,000 for each false AT&T statement, and court costs. Some of the district’s lawsuit hinges on new digital technology that allows several telephone calls to be carried on a single circuit. Previous analog technology allowed just a single telephone call for each circuit. For several years, the district claims, AT&T has been reporting only the number of circuits it carries, rather than the number of telephone lines, thereby vastly under-paying 911 fees. According to the lawsuit, AT&T has also under-bid competitors on business-related telephone systems and won contracts by collecting just $2 per line of the 911 surcharge, rather than the state-required $3 per line. That under-collection allows AT&T to “unlawfully increase its profits at the expense of revenue to support the critical emergency services provided by the District.” Read more about the lawsuit here, and download (pdf) the full lawsuit here.
After proposing legislation to provide funding for converting public safety radio network to narrowband technology, U.S. Rep. Steve Rothman (R-NY) has now submitted a bill that would move the government’s deadline back by two years. Under H.R. 3430 that Rothman introduced last Tuesday, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) would be directed to “take all actions necessary” to extend the deadline from Jan. 1, 2013 to the same day in 2015. Rothman introduced legislation (HR 2976) last September that would have provided $400 million in funding for local narrowbanding projects. The bill remains in committee without action. The FCC approved the narrowbanding regulations in 2004, requiring public safety agencies that use 150-175 MHz and 421-512 MHz frequencies to upgrade their radio systems to use narrower channel spacing. The original channel spacing in the two bands was 25 kHz, while the new spacing is 12.5 kHz or 6.25 kHz. As frequently occurs with government agencies, many public safety radio users waited to make any radio upgrades because of funding issues. Many agencies also delayed upgrades while they considered a transition to 800 MHz radio systems. Download (pdf) a copy of Rothman’s very short deadline extension here.
The first home that Durham 911 (NC) dispatcher April Hinesley every owned was leveled by a fire reported while she was on-duty at the comm center. Thankfully Hinesley’s two dogs were rescued by firefighters, who handed them over to her when she arrived at the scene. Hinesley told a reporter that a co-worker took the first 911 call reporting the fire, and she began crying when she heard her own address repeated on the phone. Firefighters continue to investigate the cause of the fire, and speculate the house will have to be demolished because of the extensive damage. Read more about the fire here.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has submitted its annual audit of state-level 911 funds to Congress, reporting that a record number of states are limiting use of the money to 911-related projects. According to surveys returned from 47 states and several U.S. territories, 39 states spend 911 fees as they were originally intended, and only seven jurisdictions allow use of 911 funds for other state projects. In 2009, the first year the information was collected for Congress, 33 states limited 911 fund expenditures to 911 projects, and 12 allowed use on other projects. The audit also studied the source of funds, and during 2011 found that 20 states collect 911 fees on a state level, eight on a local level, and 20 on both state and local. Those figures didn’t change much from 2009 survey results. The total of 911 fees reported by the states was over $2 billion, although 12 states had incomplete figures. Among the states that allowed use of 911 fee for other purposes, the FCC found that most were public safety-related projects. Download (pdf) the full FCC report for state-by-state data. [click to continue…]
A fired Plant City (Fla.) police dispatcher took the witness stand on Wednesday to testify about a 911 call she answered from the victim, who had been allegedly kidnapped by her boyfriend, stuffed in the trunk of a car, and later found suffocated. Amanda Hill was unemotional on the stand, reporters noted, as she recalled answering the call. She told the prosecutor she used an earpiece in one ear, and could not clearly hear Jennifer Johnson’s voice, but mostly loud rap music from the car radio. At one point during the one minute, 25-second call Hill asked, “Where did he pick you up at?” but did not ask about the car’s description, location or direction of travel. The call ended, and Hill did not call Johnson’s cellular phone back, even though the ANI/ALI reportedly displayed a telephone number and receiving cellular tower location. Johnson was discovered dead in an abandoned house three days later. It was not mentioned during Hill’s testimony that she had been fired in 2009 because of her handling of the call. A comm center supervisor and police patrol sergeant involved in the incident left the agency voluntarily. A police captain who gave the media incorrect information about the incident resigned. Read more about the trial and listen to part of the 911 call logging tape here, and listen to the tape of the call here.
A Bangor (Maine) dispatcher’s opposition to merging the city’s public safety comm center with the county has led to a citizen vote to keep the local center and all of its dispatchers. After the city council voted earlier this year to merge the city’s comm center with Penobscot County, Bangor dispatcher Jim Morrill gathered enough signatures to put the merger issue on the ballot. Yesterday, by a 76% to 24% vote Bangor residents soundly approved the ballot measure, overturning the council’s 8-1 vote. The council had said a merger could save the city $125,000 a year, and that city dispatchers would be offered county jobs. The council also pointed out that city residents were already paying 911 surcharges to the county, in addition to funding the local center. But Morrill argued that the cost savings would be much less than claimed by the council. He also warned that the city could lose dispatchers who have intimate knowledge of the city and its residents. “I’m very pleased with the results,” Morrill told a reporter. Read more about the vote here, and about the pre-vote pro-and-con here.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has stepped in to settle a Judge Judy-like dispute between the state of Oklahoma and Sprint Nextel Corp. over the cost of 11 radios, a total of just $28,325 out of the several billion dollars Sprint is spending to reband the 800 MHz spectrum. The disagreement over the radios demonstrates that money is sometimes not a point of contention when it comes to governments dealing with Sprint. The 800 MHz rebanding project was first proposed by Nextel co-founder Morgan O’Brien in 2001, and was then formalized by the FCC in 2005. In exchange for spectrum in the 1900 MHz band, Nextel (later purchased by Sprint) agreed to pay the costs of retuning public safety radio systems across the country to eliminate interference with Nextel radios, a bill that could total over $4 billion. In the decision announced today, the FCC said the state of Oklahoma must pay Sprint for 11 new radios the state received from the company, intended to replace radios that could not be retuned. However, after the project was complete, Sprint learned those 11 state radios were capable of being retuned on new frequencies. The company then told the state they did not want the radios back in used condition, and proposed the state pay them the $28,325 cost of the radios. The state argued it was Sprint’s fault for not determining the old radios could be retuned, and proposed keeping the radios for free, or giving them back and having Sprint pay $3,788.39 for retrieving them from the field. Faced with a stalemate, the state and Sprint appealed to the rebanding administrator for a resolution, and later to the FCC. Download (pdf) the FCC decision for more information.
A city-ordered audit of staffing levels at the Atlanta (Geo.) Fire Department discovered that all components of incident handling in the communications center exceeded national standards and, in fact, contributed to more than half the increase in overall response time from 2008 to 2010. The City Auditor just issued their report that shows the number of incidents was up four percent over the two years, and 75 percent were medical incidents. The auditor compared the city’s response times to standards established by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA 1710). First, the auditor says it takes an Atlanta E911 calltaker 337 seconds (in 95% of incidents) to transfer emergency 911 calls to a fire dispatcher, compared to the 30-second NFPA standard. “E911 transferred fewer than 1% of calls within 30 seconds,” the auditor said in the report. Next, it takes a fire dispatcher 111 seconds to notify the assigned units, compared to the 60 seconds-or-less NFPA standard. Turn-out times for both EMS and fire incidents are also lengthy, the auditor found, about three times longer than the NFPA standard. Travel times are over double the standard, the audit revealed. The auditor said her analysis was hampered by the lack of comm center data—48 percent of incident timestamps were missing or unusable. Timestamps were also missing from medical incidents that originated from Grady Hospital. Because of the findings, the auditor reported she will investigate why 911 call transfer times are high, and if increased staffing would shorten overall response times. She will also investigate the missing timestamps and why fire units take so long to leave the station after being dispatched. Download (pdf) the auditor’s report. [click to continue…]
The 2012 proposed city budget by Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel would make significant personnel cuts to the Office of Emergency Management and Communications (OEMC), and makes up the difference by making dispatchers work overtime. At a budget hearing yesterday, OEMC executive director Gary Schenkel said the budget included $3.2 million in overtime pay to cover positions that will be eliminated. But Jeff Johnson, steward of the union that represents the comm center’ fire dispatchers, said the overtime might increase the already-high burn-out rate for dispatchers. The proposed budget for 2012 includes eliminating 26 fire and 45 police dispatchers, five supervisors and 22 radio technicians. During the hearing Schenkel said sufficient staffing levels are always a moving target. He implied that dispatcher absenteeism is making the staffing problem worse. He noted that 15 percent of floor job positions are absent on some days. “If i could get those 41 people back to work, perhaps we wouldn’t be in this situation,” he said. Read more about the budget here.