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An official investigation into the 2005 terrorist attacks against London’s public transport system found that control centers were quickly overwhelmed by telephone calls and radio traffic, and recommended the use of plain English, not only on the radio, but in face-to-face conversations among public safety personnel. A team of suicide bombers set off explosions on a London double-decker bus and in three underground train tunnels, killing 56 people and injuring 700. In a 65-page report, a London coroner said control centers fielded calls from both citizens and each other, tying up phone lines. At the London Ambulance Service, a single dispatcher was assigned to handle two radio channels for all four of the bombing incidents, slowing responses. The underground explosions damaged radio train equipment, forcing operators to use their cellular phones to call for help. The Metropolitan Police radio network did not work beyond the stations, and other agencies had no underground coverage at all. The coroner also determined that the region’s emergency services didn’t sufficiently train together, failed to quickly mobilize for a major incident, and that the CAD geofile didn’t properly locate underground train stations. Many of the named agencies have already implemented improvements in their operations. Download (pdf) the coroner’s report—the control center issues are discussed starting with paragraph #121 and communications starting at #156 and #186.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has recently issued waivers for two public safety agencies, allowing them to use paging frequencies for two-way voice communications. But the commission also warned that 700 MHz frequencies freed up by the digital television (DTV) transition must be considered “available,” even by agency’s who submitted their request before the transition. In separate rulings, the FCC denied Marin County (CA) and Garden City Park’s (NY) requests to use certain frequencies in the 480 MHz band, so-called “Part 22″ frequencies, under the usual conditions for granting a waiver. However, on its own initiative the commission reconsidered the requests using other FCC rules, and granted the requests. [click to continue…]

A tornado with 140 mph winds swept through Haleyville (Ala.) on April 27th, site the nation’s first 911 call, injuring at least 10 people and damaging or destroying scores of buildings. The National Weather service said the tornado struck at about 5:10 p.m. southwest of the city, and continued almost 32 miles northeast, damaging property in a three-quarter mile path. The tornado was among 14 in the region, and part of 100 tornadoes that broke out on a single day. At least 356 people were killed and several thousand were injured by the storms. Officials said the tornado continued past Haleyville and into the Tennessee Valley, where it damaged other communities. View a tornado map after the break. [click to continue…]

The roll-over vehicle accident that claimed the life of New Haven (Conn.) dispatcher on Interstate 91 last October was a mystery to investigators at the time. Jennifer Countermash’s vehicle swerved into the center divider, flipped over and she was ejected. She died at the scene, and there was no explanation for why it occurred. But now a claim filed with the city of New Haven by her ex-husband makes a startling accusation: an on-duty New Haven police officer had been chasing Countermash before the accident, “intimidating, following and/or harassing (her),” the claim states. The husband alleges that the officer’s speeding, text messages and other distractions caused Countermash to lose control of her car and crash. He also claims that the officer “pushed and/or bumped” Countermash’s vehicle, causing it to spin out of control. The state police are reportedly investigating the accident, but a spokesperson said he wasn’t immediately familiar with the case. The claim is a legal formality before filing a civil lawsuit against the city. Read more about the claim here.

A former Milwaukee (Wisc.) fire dispatcher has filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging he was the victim of gender and disability discrimination, and that his firing was too severe a punishment for his alleged misconduct. Robert Koch, 32, was a three-year veteran of the agency in 2009 when he reported off on sick leave before his midnight shift. According to police-fire commission documents, Koch has offered five versions of his activities after midnight—drinking alcohol or not, out with friends or visiting someone at a hospital, eating at one restaurant or another. Either way, Koch says he woke up at 3:30 a.m. outside near his home, missing his credit cards and truck. In one version of his story he said he was wearing a condom, and had been riding in a taxi with a woman. He called police to make a report, and later in the day provided a urine sample that tested negative for any alcohol or drugs. The police-fire commission upheld his firing, and a Circuit Court judge affirmed discipline, but sent the case back for a rehearing on the punishment. Now Koch is also suing in federal court, saying his experience that night was, “a highly-traumatic event of a highly-sensitive nature,” and has sparked his stress, anxiety and depression. In the lawsuit he says the city and its police-fire commission, “have adopted policies or customs which result in disparate treatment of men when compared to similarly-situated women employees of the Fire Department.” They also treat disabled people different, Koch claims. The lawsuit claims lost income, emotional suffering, humiliation and embarrassment because of the discrimination. Download (pdf) the federal lawsuit here, and read more about the situation here.

The top court in Maryland has ruled that state common law precludes a police officer from suing the state after a dispatcher provided wrong information about an incident, leading to the officer’s serious injuries from a car accident while responding. The Court of Appeals cited the state’s “Fireman’s Rule,” which covers suing those “whose negligence necessitated the public safety officers’ presence at the location where the injury occurred.” The rule has been adopted by 25 other states, the court noted, and covers this case, in which a state police dispatcher failed to ask sufficient questions of a 911 caller in 2002, and dispatched Thurmont town police officer Richard White to an “armed robbery” when, in fact, it was a shoplift theft from a hardware store. White located the vehicle and gave chase, but crashed while rounding a curve, and he was seriously injured. [click to continue…]

During the post-murder investigation of Arlington (Tex.) Off. Jillian Michelle Smith, police officials discovered that a 911 calltaker and a radio dispatcher did not follow the proper procedures, thereby putting officers in jeopardy when they responded to the incident scene. Fire chief Don Crowson, whose department manages the city’s joint police-fire comm center, said the mistakes did not lead to or contribute to Smith’s death last December. But the errors were significantly dangerous. Dispatcher Joan Ware was fired today for not following proper procedures, and 911 calltaker Martha Kimball resigned earlier. Police chief Theron Bowman said dispatch procedures have been changed to send two officers to every report of a domestic assault, even if the suspect is reported to have left. In this case, a woman dialed 911 to report an assault by her boyfriend. She said the man had left in a car. Smith arrived and, police later learned, the boyfriend arrived within two minutes and quietly entered the apartment where Smith was talking to the victim. The boyfriend then became angry, shot and killed Smith, then chased his girlfriend to a bedroom and fatally shot her. The man then returned to Smith, took her gun and shot himself. The woman’s daughter was present, but escaped and ran to a neighbor for help. The neighbor dialed 911 while driving back the apartment, but couldn’t give an exact address. According to Bowman, the dispatchers failed to connect the shooting 911 call with Smith’s incident, failed to tell officers that the daughter had said an officer had been shot, and didn’t collect other caller and witness information. Read more about the incident and read the police crime report here.

The New Jersey Supreme Court has tossed out the guilty plea of a man arrested on drug charges, saying a Millville police dispatcher violated the man’s 4th Amendment rights by giving the arresting officer incorrect information that the man had a warrant. The court’s decision extends application of the exclusionary rule further up the chain of law enforcement to include dispatchers on whom officers rely for arrest information. Previously, cases involving officers operating in good faith but on bad information were generally upheld by the courts. In this case, the court was particularly harsh, saying the dispatcher was “plainly unreasonable” in failing to take further investigative steps to confirm the warrant. As a result, the exclusionary rule applies and the drugs were excluded as evidence. [click to continue…]

The attorney for a former Wayne (Neb.) police dispatcher has filed a discrimination claim with the city asking for $167,501.39 for back pay, punitive damages and attorney fees in connection with her 2009 firing for a variety of charges that included insubordination, unauthorized use of city equipment, abuse of sick leave and use of offensive language. Katherine Lassila claims she was fired in retaliation for her complaints of discrimination for her medical condition, and reporting co-workers watching pornography. She also says co-workers frequently made inappropriate comments to her, and a supervisor suggested she needed a psychiatric examination. The claim says Lassila and her son were forced to move out of the city because police officers were surveilling her home, and that she’s been unable to obtain comparable employment since her firing. Accompanying Lassila’s claim is a collection of memos written in 2009 that reveal cursing between Lassila and co-workers, bickering over kitchen dishes, and parking ticket computer entries. A previous complaint filed by Lassila with the state’s Equal Opportunity Commission was dismissed for a lack of evidence. Read more about the current claim here, and download (pdf) the complaint here.

Public safety agencies can now purchase their own mobile cellular site from AT&T to provide communications for remote locations or at active emergency scenes. Today the company introduced its Remote Mobility Zone product, which can be arranged for either fixed or mobile installations. It links to AT&T’s network via satellite or Internet for up to 28 simultaneous calls or data connections within a half-mile (mobile) or one-mile (fixed) radius. The company says the product provide 2.5g-level GSM phone service, or what’s called EDGE. The Internet back-haul version requires at least a 256 Kbps connection, which could be provided by DSL service. The new product mimics the consumer-level, so-called “femotocell” offered by AT&T under the brand name 3G MicroCell that was introduced last year. In a press release, AT&T says the new equipment and voice plans are only available in counties where AT&T already has service, and the mobile version is available only to government users. The gear automatically manages the available spectrum at the set-up site by detecting in-use frequencies, detecting interference, and selecting the appropriate channels to use. The equipment costs $2,700, and a monthly voice plan is also required. Read more about the service here, and download (pdf) a brochure about the service. [click to continue…]

Family Sues RCMP Over 911 Call

The family of a woman who died along a rural Saskatchewan (Canada) road in 2010 has filed a lawsuit against the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), saying a dispatcher mishandled a 911 call asking for help. Kerry Canepotatoe, 19, was in a car that ran off the isolated road and got stuck in April 2010. Her cousin dialed 911 and spoke to an RCMP dispatcher, asking for a tow truck. But when no one arrived after several hours, Canepotatoe set out to find help. Her body was found four days later—she had died of exposure. The cousin and two children were found in the car three days after that, severely dehydrated and malnourished. The family says the dispatcher did request a tow truck, but should have followed up on the call. The tow truck driver couldn’t locate the vehicle and took no other action. The family is also suing the provincial highway ministry over the lack of signs along the rural road. Read more about the incident here, and listen to various 911 calls here. Update: In Dec. 2011 the family and RCMP settled the lawsuit.

By July 2013 all county-level public safety comm centers in West Virginia are required to have trained their dispatchers to provide emergency medical dispatching (EMD) services, and to bear the costs of training and any extra staffing. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin signed the legislation last month after legislators approved the bill with little debate. According to the legislative analyst, 21 counties are already providing EMD services, and another 20 are planning to provide it. Another seven counties said they don’t have EMD plans. View the bill’s history here, and download (pdf) the final text here. Also read about one county’s financial dilemma is implementing the new requirement.

A St. Louis (Mo.) man is appealing his 2009 murder conviction, saying a jury should have been allowed to hear a 911 call he made to a dispatcher who gave him CPR instructions for his girlfriend’s 3 year-old daughter whom he found unconscious. Quintin Gray Sr., 26, has also raised several other issues of evidence in his appeal, including the exact cause of death. Police arrested Gray in Feb. 2008 after hospital doctors called police to report the child died from blunt force trauma. A jury found Gray guilty of second-degree murder in Dec. 2009, and two months later a judge sentenced him to 25 years in prison. His attorney now hopes to convince the Missouri Court of Appeals that the trial judge erred when he ruled the 911 call was hearsay, and would not let the jury consider it as evidence. During that call, a dispatcher instructed Gray to perform CPR with the palms of his hands—used for adults—and not with his fingers, as used for small children. That CPR mistake could have caused the injuries that the toddler suffered, Gray contends, leading to his acquittal. The prosecutor believes the 911 call was properly excluded, since Gray did not take the stand during the trial, and could not be cross-examined about his “testimony” as heard on the 911 tape. Read more about the case and listen to excerpts of the 911 call here. Download (pdf) a copy of the defendant’s and attorney general’s legal briefs filed in the appeals court here.

When a suicidal woman drove her van into the Hudson River last night in tiny Newburgh (NY), four of her children were inside the vehicle with her. But her 10 year-old son managed to escape from the van as it was sinking and swim to shore. A passerby drove him a short distance to the Newburgh fire station, where lone dispatcher Ismael Torres answered a knock at the front door about 8 p.m. and took the child inside. Torres questioned the child, who was wet, cold and initially unable to coherently described what had occurred. However, with patience, Torres determined what occurred and pinpointed the van’s location, then dispatched police and fire units to the scene. Sadly, Lashanda Armstrong and her three children, ages 2, 5 and 11 months, did not survive. Torres told reporters he obtained a blanket for the child and bought him some M&Ms. “My emotions started kicking in where you want to cry but you know that all you are going to do is delay the response if you let your emotions kick it,” Torres told a reporter. Police said that 10 minutes before the drownings, they received a report from an Armstrong relative of a domestic disturbance at her apartment. However, when officers arrived, they found the apartment empty. Watch a video about Torres’ actions after the break. [click to continue…]

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has embarked on a wide-ranging inquiry into the reliability and resiliency of the nation’s communications networks, specifically how they might perform in the face of a Japan-level earthquake or other catastrophic disaster. The formal Notice of Inquiry will also encompass two prior inquiries related to Hurricane Katrina and broadband network reliability. Specifically, the FCC will study continuity of networks, whether service standards are needed, how the FCC can foster improved reliability, and what legal authority the FCC might use to improve communications. Beyond public safety and 911 services, communications reliability affects the financial, government, medical and power industries. In its notice, the FCC said, “People dialing 9-1-1, whether using legacy or broadband- based networks, must be able to reach emergency personnel for assistance; and when networks dedicated to public safety become unavailable, first responders must have access to commercial communications, including broadband technologies, to coordinate their rescue and recovery efforts.” Download (pdf) the FCC Notice here.