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Radio Coverage Lawsuit

The families of two Philadelphia (Penn.) firefighters have filed lawsuits against Motorola, Wireless Communications and Electronics Inc., and a homeowner, claiming the city’s public safety radio system malfunctioned when the firefighters tried to radio for help when their air packs ran out during a smoky basement fire in 2004. The lawsuit says that Capt. John Taylor and firefighter Rey Rubio, “suffered agonizing and horrible deaths from asphyxiation, before they could be rescued,” and that Taylor made several attempts to radio for help from the basement. The homeowner was convicted last year of involuntary manslaughter in the case. Prosecutors presented evidence the fire was caused by a marijuana grow operation.

Few 800 MHz Rebanding Deals

MRT magazine reports that few 800 MHz rebanding deals have been signed by agencies, as reported by Transition Administrator director Brett Haan during this week’s APCO conference. Of 424 public safety licensees in in the first wave of rebanding, just 20 had signed a rebanding agreement as of the Aug. 7th milestone, Haan reported. And, he added, 231 licensees are not in active negotiations with Nextel to reband their 800 MHz radio systems. Read the entire story here.

Satellite Comm Guide

The Satellite Industry Association (SIA) has posted The First Responder’s Guide to Satellite Communications, which it describes as, “a comprehensive overview and tutorial of satellite technology and its role in response to natural or man-made disasters.” The Guide includes an overview of satellite communications capabilities, equipment requirements and easy to follow steps for connecting with satellite through various types of terminals, and a glossary of terms, definitions and frequencies. Download (pdf) the Guide here.

APCO Cautious Support

APCO has issued a statement cautiously supporting the concept of the Cyren Call project, but not completely embracing the project itself. APCO noted that the 24 MHz of spectrum previously allocated to public safety by the FCC, “is insufficient to meet public safety’s future requirements. APCO supports “reallocating 30 MHz of spectrum from the 700 MHz band that is currently slated for auction,” a proposal made by Nextel co-founder Morgan O’Brien under the Cyren Call project. APCO said carefully that it intends to join other groups “to advocate a reallocation of the 30 MHz, and to further develop proposals for a public/private partnership to construct and operate a broadband network using that 30 MHz of spectrum.” The group carefully added, “The ‘Public Safety Broadband Trust,’ proposed by Cyren Call Communications, may be a viable framework for that effort.” Read an interview with APCO president Wanda McCarley about the statement here.

7 Year-Old Prankster

Kansas City (Mo.) police officers found a 7 year-old boy after he allegedly made a prank 911 call reporting a home invasion robbery and the kidnapping of his father. The youth told the dispatcher he was 13 years-old, and that three armed men had broke into his house. He gave a phony address, but police used his cellular call information to find him at his grandmother’s home. A news story did not say that police arrested the youth, but did say police would not bill the family for the time and effort invested. Watch a TV report on the incident here.

FCC Action on 700 MHz Plan

The FCC has issued a fourth Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on the issue of digital TV and reallocation of the 700 MHz band, including 24 MHz for public safety. The Rulemaking asks for comment on “several potential changes” to the FCC’s initial determinations on the matter, including upcoming auctions of 60 MHz of spectrum in the 700 MHz band. The Cyren Call project has proposed allocating 30 MHz of the upper 700 MHz spectrum to a public safety trust, to create a nationwide broadband network. In the Notice the FCC asked for additional comments on service area rules for the spectrum, bandwidth and pairing, performance requirements, license terms, and power limits. Download (pdf) the Notice here

Suicidal Caller Located

The direct connection between dispatchers and life were demonstrated no more clearly than by a cellular call to the Clark (Wash.) Regional Emergency Services Agency comm center, which was answered by dispatcher Laura Irish. The female caller gave an address, said she had a belt around her neck and was going to kill herself. After noticing that the Phase II location didn’t match what the woman had given, Irish stayed on the phone for almost 15 minutes with the caller. Colleagues called Cingular, and a correct address was finally obtained. Vancouver officers arrived, kicked down the door and found the woman barely breathing, but she later recovered.

Choking Victim Saved

Seminole County (Fla.) dispatcher Shelly Brubaker has been honored by the County Commission for her handling of a 911 call from a man who was choking. She gave the man instruction for the Heimlich maneuver–on himself–using a chair, and the man recovered. “I knew he was choking. I knew what we had to do. He was by himself. Really, he’s the hero. He was able to do it,” Brubaker told a reporter. She said she has not met the man, but would love to give him a hug.

Listening to AM/FM?

Tech company Visteon Corp. is field-testing an integrated, voice-activated, touch-screen control device for law enforcement patrol cars, and the Michigan State Police say they want to install 50 of the devices in their patrol units at $12,000 each. The devices can recognize about 120 voice commands, and link to almost anything in the car: radar, video cameras, radios and lights. One capability is suspicious: MSP trooper Rene Gonzales told the reporter, “The volume on the AM/FM radio is automatically muted if I activate my police radio.” Read the story here.

Dispatcher Shortage

The Philadelphia Weekly Web site says a police department report last June recommended a back-up comm center, but that a staffing shortage is actually a more critical problem now. The story says 14 dispatchers were laid off in Jan. 2005 during a budget cut and, “the staffing level has yet to recover due to retirements and the high turnover rate for dispatchers.” And over the past 10 years, incoming 911 calls have increased from 1.1 million calls to 3.3 million last year. Read the entire story here.

No Computer Privacy

A federal appeals court in San Francisco has ruled that employees do not have an expectation of privacy for accounts on their work computers if they have been properly admonished. The decision in a Montana case upheld the conviction of a man who police say had pornographic materials stored on his work computer, and which the employer discovered and called police. A key portion of the court’s decision was that the company’s’ employees, “were apprised of the company’s monitoring efforts through training and an employment manual, and they were told that the computers were company-owned and not to be used for activities of a personal nature.” This notice provided objective proof, the court said, that the employee did not have a legitimate expectation of privacy. Download the court’s decision here (pdf).

OK…It’s ‘Wacky’

A story in the Kansas City Star newspaper details how more Spanish-speakers are moving to the region, putting pressure on public safety comm centers to directly handle their 911 calls for help or transfer them to a translator. One problem is that up to 10% of the callers hang up before the translator can come on the line. Read more about their situation here.

800 MHz Debate

The 800 MHz rebanding project continues to grind along, and to generate debate among the participants. First Motorola asked the FCC for the early release of funds to replace radios for agencies who have its 800 MHz systems. Then radio manufacturer EFJ filed an objection to Motorola’s plan with the FCC, calling it “ill-conceived and anticompetitive.” Now Motorola has filed a response to EFJ’s objections. Motorola says their proposal, “does not disadvantage other manufacturers and by opposing the proposal EFJ risks prolonging the potential for interference to public safety.”

Nextel Has Arrived

An odd story posted on the Firehouse.com Web site details how Richmond (Virg.) added Nextel handsets and Blackberry PDAs to their own public safety radio system, creating “dramatically expanded logistical capabilities.” The site’s “TechZone Editor” Charles Werner explains how the city evaluated its own communications systems, and then decided to expand them using Sprint-Nextel gear, and how operations have improved. Fire chief Robert Creecy found that, “Command officers were having a difficult time performing the necessary email activity that was required during their daily routine,” the story says. Now, all the Spriny-Nextel equipment is “bundled under one government account,” and every fire officer has a Nextel handset assigned to him/her. Since the implementation, the story states, “There was an immediate reduction in radio traffic over the 800 MHz radio system as it naturally migrated over the Nextels, most commonly through the use of Direct Connect.” Read the entire story here.

Rent Out R911?

Would you rent out your neighborhood alerting system to a non-emergency entity? That’s what the New Jersey State Police did when the New Jersey American Water Co. approached them to dial 72,000 residents of several towns in Atlantic County to notify them of water delivery restrictions. Turns out there was a problem with the dialing system, and only about 800 calls were made over the weekend, and apparently during the early morning hours when many people were sleeping or away from businesses. The company decided to end the calling, but now town officials are questioning the wisdom of using an emergency system for routine notifications. Read the story here.