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Despite assembling 230,000 people and spending $50 billion a year on national security, a bipartisan group of experts and politicians says the country is not as safe as it could be from future terrorist attacks, and pointed to radio interoperability as one of the lagging projects. In its report released today ahead of the Sept. 11th anniversary, the National Security Preparedness Group (NSPG) outlined the original 9/11 Commission recommendations on national security, including communications, command and control, Congressional reform, transportation security, secure identification systems and detention standards. All of the recommendations remain unfinished, the group discovered. On the subject of radio spectrum and interoperability, the group recalled the original recommendation that Congress support legislation to quickly assign more spectrum to public safety. “To date, this recommendation continues to languish,” the group said in its 10th anniversary report. “Despite the lives at stake,” the group said, the recommendation to improve radio interoperability for first responders, “stalled because of a political fight.” The group reiterated its support for D Block legislation directly to public safety and added, “We urge the Congress to act swiftly.” In response to today’s report, the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO) issued a press release adding its voice to the NSPG, saying the recent east coast earthquake and hurricane also demonstrated how urgently improved communications are needed. Download (pdf) the NSPG report here, and read APCO’s press release after the break. [click to continue…]

A Pickaway County (Ohio) sheriff’s dispatcher has been fired after failing to take action on two citizen calls reporting that a highway intersection stop sign that had been obscured with plastic wrap by two teenagers as a prank. Hours after the calls, two vehicles collided at the intersection, killing an 83 year-old woman and injuring her 80 year-old sister. Kimberly Chapman was fired today for neglect of duty, incompetency and malfeasance when handling the calls on Aug. 17th. According to Lt. John Monce, the teens purchased plastic wrap at a Walmart store and wrapped it around the stop sign. A passing motorist called the sheriff’s office to report the problem at 10:30 a.m., and Chapman fielded the call. She assured the motorist she would notify the state highway department, but never did because she was apparently busy with other incidents. Another motorist reported the obscured stop sign about two hours later to another dispatcher, who reported it to Chapman. Again, Chapman said she would notify the highway department, but never did. About 3½ hours later, the fatal accident occurred. The teens have been arrested and charged with involuntary manslaughter. Read more about the incident here.

Police in a suburb of Atlanta (Geo.) say the telephone call their dispatcher received reporting a home invasion robbery was a hoax intended to generate large police response. In this case, a woman used a VoIP phone line to make the call, and dialed the Roswell 911 center’s TTY line to make the so-called SWATing call. The caller sounded authentic and reported four men with guns had broken into her home, and gave an address. Responding police quickly learned there was no emergency at the address, and no one was injured. Police have not said if the address was specifically targeted, which is usually the case in SWATing incidents. Read more about the incident here.

The 5.8 magnitude earthquake that struck the east coast on Tuesday created no problems for public safety communications centers in a 10-state region, but it did generate a press release that linked the earthquake to political efforts to create a nationwide public safety radio network. Residents over a 12-state region felt the earthquake and began dialing and texting on their cellular phones, tying up every major wireless carrier. The carriers later reported that no facilities were damaged from the quake, but that network congestion was entirely man-made and lasted only about 30 minutes. Few true emergencies resulted from the earthquake, but many dialed 911 to report it and ask questions. Albermarle County (Virg.) reported no damage from the quake, but that their overloaded 911 system stopped routing calls to dispatchers for about 40 minute.  Roanoke (Virg.) dispatchers, about 150 from the epicenter, fielded 160 calls within eight minutes of the quake, about four times normal volume. Allentown (Penn.) dispatchers handled 300 call in the 60 minutes after the quake, some reporting minor problems. In a press release the Public Safety Alliance (PSA) used the non-event to claim, “Earthquake underscores need for public safety network.” The PSA said that commercial networks became overloaded with citizen calls, but admitted that, “There was (sic) no reports of outages or congestion on public safety radio systems.” Even so, the cellular congestion did impact first responders, “Who relied on their commercial cell phones and data cards to communicate with their colleagues and families,” the PSA said. Proposals for the D-Block of spectrum include having commercial carriers create and maintain a public safety network. But according to the PSA, the earthquake experience proves, “Public safety cannot rely on commercial networks during critical incident and major events, as they cannot gain access to roam onto or gain the level of priority access necessary to be effective in such incidents.” Read the entire PSA press release here.

A consultant’s study of Illinois‘ 911 systems shows that funding from 911 surcharges falls 20 percent short of funding the state’s emergency telephone service, and also sets out a path for improvements on the way to Next Generation 911 (NG911) service within the state. The three-volume report by the St. Louis (Mo.) firm Stone Carlie includes a survey of Illinois’ public safety answering points (PSAP), and an enormous amount of 911 information gathered from other states and large U.S. cities. Besides answering many state questions, the consultants’ report also provides several benchmarks useful for states who are facing the same reality—the costs of providing emergency communications has far outstripped 1970-era funding sources based on wired telephone lines. Besides funding shortfalls, the study found that annual 911 data is reported manually each year, making analysis difficult, and that there is no uniform method of accounting for 911 surcharge receipts and disbursements. Oversight and coordination of 911 is light. Significantly, the public is “not well informed” about 911 systems, limiting their use of the system and their political support for funding and upgrades. The state can borrow 911 surcharge funds any time, the consultants said, and some surcharges are routinely collected and swept into the state’s general fund. Download (pdf) the main report, and also the PSAP survey summary and full survey numbers.

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In a world of increasing increasing interoperability, Hinds County (Miss.) has reportedly settled an unusual lawsuit with Motorola, accusing the company of providing confidential radio codes to neighboring cities and counties so they could access the county’s system without paying the county an access fee. The county picked Motorola to install the 800 MHz trunked system, and in 2008 discovered several unidentified radios using the network, and were not paying the county’s standard $10 a month fee for public safety agencies. Later, the county accused Motorola of providing the access codes to the cities, and then filed a lawsuit in 2009 seeking damages. The lawsuit was set for trial last April, and now it’s been revealed that the county and Motorola agreed to a settlement the day of the trial—the company will reportedly pay $1,425,730. Both sides refuse to comment, saying the settlement is confidential. However, several news agencies are asking the county court to release the settlement details. Read more about the settlement here.

An 81 year-old Boynton Beach (Fla.) woman was alone in her home just before Thanksgiving in 2009, when she cut her foot on glassware. Sidell Reiner used a nearby telephone to dial “0” for help, but through a series of circumstances, arriving paramedics did not find and treat her, and she soon bled to death. Now Reiner’s family is now suing Palm Beach County Fire-Rescue, Boynton Beach, Comcast and the operator services company Deltacom, saying they all made mistakes that contributed to Reiner’s death. According to testimony in hundreds of pages of depositions, Comcast isn’t sure if a live Deltacom operator or a recording answered Reiner’s first call. But apparently her call was transferred to a Boynton Beach dispatcher without her ANI/ALI information being displayed. Logging tapes allegedly show Reiner gave her correct and complete address to the Boynton Beach dispatcher, and specifically explained her injury. But that information wasn’t relayed to a Fire-Rescue dispatcher when the call was transferred. Reiner became increasingly difficult to understand and hear as time went on, the logging tapes show. Paramedics testified they were told the incident was an “unknown medical” problem. They knocked on Reiner’s door, received no response, looked through the windows and then left the scene within five minutes. Reiner’s husband arrived within an hour to find her dead. Read more and listen to the logging tapes here.

A task force formed to study human resource issues among the nation’s public safety dispatchers has issued its second nationwide evaluation, and has issued its second “F” grade. The Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO) established the Professional Communications Human Resources Taskforce (ProCHRT) in 2009 to study staffing, training, shift work, retirement, benefits and other factors. Last year the group issued an interim report and gave an “F” grade overall based on several criteria. Now, in its first full report, the task force says there has been some progress. But the group adds, “The progress is still insufficient to consistently, comprehensively, and sufficiently support the critical mission and public safety communications professionals. The overall grade remains at an F.” To create the grade, the group evaluated four categories: state-mandated training requirements, in-service promotional opportunities, emergency medical dispatch (EMD), along with salary and benefits. Download (pdf) the report here, last year’s interim report here, and read an APCO story about the new report here.

A text message from a 16 year-old Norwegian girl during last month’s massacre at a youth camp is offering insights into emergency reporting during a dire emergency, and if text messaging 911 will be as effective as some believe. The incident has already been cited in press reports as an example of how Next Generation 911 (NG911) will offer improved emergency reporting by allowing callers to send text messages, photos and videos to public safety comm centers. In an account by MSNBCMarianne Bremnes ran with several other campers and hid among rocks to avoid being shot by the suspect. While there, she text messaged her mother, “Mummy, tell the police to come quick. People are dying here.” Her mother then contacted the police, only to have her daughter text for help again. “I am working on it, Julie,” her mother responded. Finally, Bremnes’ mother reported that she had contacted police, officers were on the way, and, “They’ve had many calls.” Bremnes replied, “Tell the police that a madman is running around shooting people. They have to hurry!” The mother and daughter then kept up a 90-minute text message conversation until police officers arrived on the island and rescue Bremnes. [click to continue…]

The pressures to consolidate public safety communications center have been felt nationwide for several years, but since 2008 even more jurisdictions have been forced by budget deficits to consider giving up their center. This week a long list of city and counties have made decisions on consolidation, including “Yes” and “No.” In Dane County (Wisc.) a study panel has concluded that merging 911 and emergency management would compromise the current level of service, and result in only $30,000 a year in savings. However, local newspaper editorial says the panel should revisit the issue. Riverside County (S. Calif.) supervisors have approved a study of integrating sheriff’s, fire and EMS communications, which are now handled by separate centers. In Illinois, the Olney city council discussed a city-county communications merger at their Monday meeting, learning that it’s not supported by police officers. Some residents wondered if the sheriff wants to take over county-wide law enforcement duties. In Connecticut the state is moving forward with a plan to move two state police comm centers to a third, part of a state-wide consolidation trend for the state police. Lastly, Gulfport (Fla.) communications officer LaKeisha Issac was nearly in tears while telling the city council that the comm center is an irreplaceable and invaluable asset. She recalled a 3 year-old girl coming to the front counter to report her mother had been assaulted. “I held her hand and kept her calm,” Issac told the council. The center’s employees have 55 years of combined experience. The city is considering outsourcing dispatching to save money.

The city of Tucson (Ariz.) has upheld the firing of a 911 dispatcher for disclosing confidential information about the communications center, even while there are on-going warnings from dispatchers that a new telephone system has been dropping 911 and other calls, putting the public in danger. Mike LaFond went public with his criticism of the new telephone system installed May 25th, and then was fired in June. His allegations included examples of dropped calls, missing ANI/ALI information and delayed responses. In one case, he allegedly obtained information from computer-aided dispatch (CAD) records about a fatal EMS incident as an example of the problems. According to city officials, a 10 year-old girl suffered an asthma attack, a series of technical and human errors sent EMS units to the wrong address, and there was a delay in reaching the girl. They say LaFond was not authorized to access historical information from CAD, only current information. On Monday several other dispatchers went public with their criticism of the 911 telephone system at a press conference hosted by city council member Steve Kozachik. The dispatchers aid they had been told by supervisors not to talk to outsiders about the 911 system. Kozachik said that was in conflict with the dispatchers’ employee right. The dispatchers said they noticed problems during their training period, but supervisors never asked for their input or feedback, The old system was disconnected two weeks after the switch-over, so the the 911 operation had to push forward with the new, glitchy system. On Tuesday the city’s General Services Administration (GSA) upheld LaFond’s firing. On the same day, city officials announced that administration of the 911 center was being transferred from the GSA to the fire department, and claimed it was a long-planned change. Read a series of stories about the situation: dispatchers speak out, fire department takes over 911 center, city council reviews 911 problems, city council OKs more dispatchers.

The Los Angeles County (Calif.) Sheriff has requested the district attorney consider criminal charges after one of its stations was flooded with telephone calls last Friday from fans of rapper Game, who sent a Tweet from his cellular phone urging fans to call several telephone numbers to apply for a music internship. One of those phone numbers was a non-emergency number for the Compton sheriff’s station, which fields administrative phone calls for the district. Emergency calls are handled by a separate comm center and were not affected by the incident. In a press release, the LASO says it began receiving “hundreds” of phone calls at about 5:23 p.m. from some of Game’s 580,000 Twitter followers. The callers either hung up or asked about the music internship. “There were so many phone calls that all of the many phone lines were overwhelmed,” the press release said. “Delays in providing help included a missing person, a spousal assault, two robberies and a stolen car.” [click to continue…]

A fatal police-involved shooting in San Francisco by a transit district officer sparked public demonstrations last month, and has now brought threats by a computer hacker group to jam the district’s police radio system. The group Anonymous made the threats Sunday on its Twitter page, but did not say how they intended to jam the system. The Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART) operates a conventional 800 MHz trunked radio network covering four counties, which is used by its police, track maintenance and operations departments. The EDACS system was originally installed by Ericsson GE (M/A-COMM, Harris Corp.) in April 2000. A BART police offer shot and killed a man officers say was armed with two knives on a station platform. A week later demonstrators mobbed an underground BART station downtown, and at one point tried to climb atop the trains stopped at the platform. When demonstrators threatened a return to the station last Thursday, BART police turned off the cellular telephone antennas at several stations to prevent demonstrators from coordinating their actions. BART operates the underground antenna system separate from those maintained by wireless carriers. Police explained that above-ground cellular service wasn’t affected, and that the shut-down did not create a safety hazard. Several groups have criticized the police cellular shut-down, saying it infringes on free speech rights and creates a safety hazard for passengers who might have an emergency. [click to continue…]

Just days after the chair of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced how Next Generation 911 (NG911) will benefits to citizens, a pair of comm centers on opposite sides of the country are taking different views of the new technology. Julius Genachowski announced how the FCC intends to move to a nationwide 911 network during this week’s annual conference of the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO) in Philadelphia. His talk to the group included that NG911 would allow citizens to text message to emergency comm centers, and to send photo, videos and other media. Perhaps coincidentally, Durham (NC) began a test of 911 text messaging on Aug. 3 using Verizon Wireless. The city intends to test how well text messaging works, including speed of message delivery. However, at almost the same time, San Mateo County officials are hesitant to immediately rely on text messaging. Jaime Young, public safety communications director for the county told a reporter that he prefer to, “learn from others so we’re not on the leading edge.” Sheriff Greg Munks echoed those comments, saying text messaging might have long-term benefits, but added, “We have a ways to go before we can make the transition as an industry.” Read more of the San Mateo story here.

Almost two years after an intoxicated driver crashed into another car in Clark County (Nev.) and killed an 18 year-old woman, a former police dispatcher has come forward confirming the drunk driver responsible for the crash had consumed alcohol at the home of a school district police dispatcher. Former Clark County School District (CCSD) police dispatcher Peggy Higgins told a KLAS-TV reporter that she saw a flyer at the police department announcing the Nov. 2009, pre-Thanksgiving party, and that it was also promoted through CCSD email. Higgins told the reporter she was present at the party, in the home of CCSD police dispatcher Rebecca Wamsley. Higgins saw underage drinkers at the party, including Wamsley’s 17 year-old daughter, who was celebrating her birthday. Higgins alleges that other members of the CCSD police department, including officers and Wamsley, were at the party, and were aware of the underage drinkers. One of those drinkers, 18 year-old Kevin Miranda, left the party intoxicated (0.16%), according to a police investigation. He crashed into the car of Angela Peterson at an intersection, killing her. Miranda pled guilty to felony drunk driving, and last month was sentenced to six to 12 years in prison. In her interview with KLAS, Higgins claimed that in the days after the accident, comm center supervisor Mondo Quintanella specifically told her to lie about seeing the underage drinkers at the party. “We need to protect Rebecca,” Quintanella allegedly told Higgins. Higgins says she refused to lie, and was never interviewed by the CCSD police internal affairs investigators. Read more about the incident here.