For the next six months residents of Durham (NC) who are Verizon Wireless customers can text-message the city’s public safety dispatchers to report emergencies, but a press release announcing the trial project notes the messages won’t be free and there are several technical limitations. The test period was arranged with help from Intrado and is reportedly the second city to accept text messages to 911 after Blackhawk County (Iowa). James Soukup, director of the Durham Emergency Communications Center, explains, “When asked to participate in this trial, we went into it as an opportunity to help folks who are hearing impaired and potential victims who can’t afford for someone to hear them make a 911 voice call.” The test will be a learning process for both text-ers and the involved agencies and companies, he added. The press release notes several points for text-ers to keep in mind, including, “Customers should use the texting option only when calling 911 is not an option,” and that it takes longer to text than to make a voice emergency call. “Picking up the phone and calling 911 is still the most efficient way to reach emergency help,” the press release notes. Providing a location “is imperative,” the release says, and abbreviations or slang should never be used. Text message can only be 160 characters long, and either count towards the Verizon customer’s monthly text message limit or are charged per-message. The release does not say that there is no automatic acknowledgement that a text message has been received by a dispatcher, and in fact may not be received at all because of wireless or network problems. Text message delivery can also be delayed during an exchange with a dispatcher, which also isn’t mentioned in the release. Download (pdf) the full press release here.
Police in Hartford (Conn.) now confirm that a dispatcher’s mistake led to police ending their investigation of a possible dead body inside a home last May, and it wasn’t discovered until two months later. Neighbors called police in late May when they noticed a strong odor and saw flies near the home, police say. The neighbors also reported that the elderly female resident had not been seen in weeks. Officers arrived to investigate, while a dispatcher searched the computer-aided dispatch (CAD) records for previous incidents. That dispatcher noticed a previous EMS incident at the home, when a female was taken to the hospital by an ambulance, and saw that it occurred the day before. Relying on that information, the officers ended their investigation and left. However, police now say the dispatcher misread the date—it was the date one day before, but two years earlier. Police say it was the current victim’s mother who had been transported to the hospital in 2009. Last Friday a gardener saw the body inside the home and called police again. The mayor of Hartford vows to investigate and take any necessary disciplinary action. Read more here.
A man who called the Wyckoff (NY) police department Saturday night told a dispatcher he had killed four people, was holding two hostages and demanded $10,000 in ransom and a police getaway car. However, after a heavy police response and tear gas fired into the home, police say the call was a hoax. Police say the residents were away and no one was jeopardized by the incident. The homeowner is a well-known media commentator who wrote a law enforcement investigator’s guide to on-line social media networks, which may have been the motive for the hoax. In previous incidents callers have used VoIP links to call police departments and report false emergencies, so-called SWATing incidents. Read more about the incident here.
A city auditor’s report on San Diego (Calif.) fire and EMS response times found that figures reported to the city council don’t include all incidents and don’t include call handling time in the analysis. According to the audit, instead of starting the response time clock when a 911 call is answered, the clock begins when a call is entered for dispatch. This method of timing reduces the response time by anywhere from 60 to 97 seconds for each incident, the audit found, making it appear fire units arrive sooner than they actually do. The method improves the fire department’s response time goal of five-minutes 90% of the time. Even with the shorter times, San Diego meets the goal only 54% of the time. City officials say outdated equipment makes it impossible to capture the full call handling times to calculate the response times. The audit also found San Diego does not include in its response time calculations any EMS incidents that occurred when 12 or more ambulances are handling calls. This results is that 37% of all EMS incidents are excluded from any response time analysis. Using the smaller number of incidents, the city easily meets a 12-minute/90% response time goal with a score of 96%. However, using all incidents, the rating would be 92.6 percent, the auditor found. Read more about the situation here.
A District of Columbia federal court has dismissed a lawsuit against the DC police alleging negligence and civil rights violations in a police shooting incident for not properly relaying information from the 911 caller to officers on-scene. The court ruled that Naishia Davis failed to provide evidence that “a policy or practice of the defendant gave rise to the alleged constitutional violation.” David dialed 911 in 2009 when her boyfriend James Miller Jr. had locked himself in their apartment bathroom, was paranoid and suicidal, and she was fearful of him. The dispatcher took information, but classified the incident as an “unwanted guest,” without mentioning Davis’ other description of the situation. The arriving officers escorted Davis and her children out of the apartment, forced their way into the bathroom, saw Miller pointing a gun at them, and fatally shot him. Davis filed the lawsuit alleging negligence on several fronts, and violation of Miller’s civil rights. But the District Court granted the District’s request for a dismissal, saying the lawsuit did not provide sufficient proof of “deliberate indifference” by the District when training the officers or handling dispatcher. The lawsuit also did not demonstrate that the District had a policy or practice causing the violation. Download (pdf) the full lawsuit and other court documents here.
A survey of disabled Americans by a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) committee found that a majority have not dialed 911 within the last two years, but when they did, 75 percent they experienced no problems—either technical or operational—in communicating with the dispatcher. Respondents also were emphatic on communicating with 911 directly rather than using a relay service—77.1 percent rated direct calling “very important.” The FCC’s Emergency Access Advisory Committee (EAAC) surveyed 3,132 people with a full range of hearing, cognitive, sight and other disabilities. They asked how the respondents normally communicate, what video or software they use, and questions on emergency calling. The survey found that 66.4 percent haven’t dialed 911 in over two years, and that just 2.4 percent dialed and reached a dispatcher who could not understand them. Overall, the respondents wanted to use text messaging (48.1%) to reach emergency help, followed by video and voice-video. Specifically, they prefer using real-time text messaging (45.1%), followed by SMS text and email. Download (pdf) the full survey report here. [click to continue…]
The city of Toronto (Canada) should consider integrating its fire and emergency medical operations, reduce the range of medical calls that it attends and improve response times with dynamic staging of equipment, according to a consultant’s report released earlier this month. The firm KPMG performed a Core Services Review of all city agencies, including the fire department and EMS agency, which now operate independently. The report found a decreasing demand for fire emergency services, but increasing demand for EMS services, leaving fire response times the same and increasing EMS response times. KPMG noted that the fire department has twice the budget of EMS, yet the majority of calls for service are for EMS. “Finding the right way to allocate available emergency resources is a major challenge for modern cities,” the report said. “Simply integrating the organizations will not create massive change initially, but it should start the long process to providing more efficient emergency response services,” KPMG concluded. Download (pdf) the section of the report dealing with fire and EMS here.
Ten months after a University of Texas–Austin student used an AK-47 to shoot up the campus and then killed himself, the university police department has issued a report outlining how it handled the incident, including communications among officers, students and other agencies. Colton Tooley never fired any of his 11 rounds at other people, or menaced anyone. But his actions set off a four-hour lockdown of the huge campus until his suicide could be confirmed. In the 19-page report issued today, UT police said incident command, operational strategy and tactics and police-to-student communications worked well. The two-position police comm center was immediately upstaffed with previously-trained civilians, and dispatchers fielded 14 calls to 911 and 511 calls to the 7-digit non-emergency numbers in the three hours after the first call reporting Tooley’s gunfire. They activated warning messages to the campus using text messages, closed-circuit television and warning sirens. But the report noted that incoming calls overwhelmed the phone lines, limiting out-going calls, and the center became too crowded with personnel, making it difficult to hear radio and telephone calls. There was confusion on which notification methods had already been used, and the university and Austin city police department, “did not coordinate well,” the report said. Download (pdf) the full report for more information about the incident and recommendations.
The insect infestation at the Anderson County (SC) 911 center is so severe that exterminator’s can’t identify the bugs, and one dispatcher required surgery to remove insect larvae that caused a lesion. Sheriff John Skipper said two teams of exterminators have visited the center, but with little success. The building is 62 years-old and the center’s electronic equipment makes it difficult to thoroughly spray insecticides, Skipper said. He told a recent city council meeting that several dispatchers have required medical treatment for bites. Read more about the situation here.
A series of Canadian courts has dismissed a lawsuit filed by a Hamilton (Ont.) police dispatcher claiming the department improperly blamed her for not following procedures in a 2007 multiple murder case. The country’s Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal on Wednesday, ending the lawsuit. Teresa Dinunzio filed the action claiming that in public statements, department officials blamed her and another dispatcher—without naming them—of failing to send officers when Dinunzio answered a phone call from the agency’s most-wanted fugitive, identified himself and asked that officers come and arrest him. Instead, Dinunzio told the man to walk to headquarters and turn himself in. The man never appeared, and a week later he fatally stabbed two people and critically injured two more. A month later a deputy police chief revealed that the suspect had dialed 911 to turn himself in. He said the dispatcher should have sent officers Priority 2, but instead handled it as a Priority 3, a violation of policy. The deputy chief did not name Dinunzio or her coworker. Her original lawsuit was dismissed by a Superior Court of Justice on the grounds that her labor contract set out how work disputes should be handled, and that a civil court had no jurisdiction in the matter. When Dinunzio appealed, the provincial Court of Appeal agreed with the lower court’s decision. The Supreme Court of Canada declined to hear her appeal this week. Download (pdf) the civil court’s decision on the case, and read more about the situation here.
A nurse from a Tucson (Ariz.) urgent care facility left off a single digit from her address when reporting a child wasn’t breathing, and a calltaker failed to notice there error, sending fire and EMS units to the wrong location. The nurse gave the address as “833,” when it was actually “8333.” A second and third 911 call with the correct address didn’t lead to a correction, and so emergency units didn’t arrive until more than 10 minutes after the original call. Tucson city officials are providing few details, but do say, “The dispatcher involved was terminated for failure to follow procedures.” It’s not clear if the error is somehow related to a computer-aided dispatch (CAD) upgrade that was made six days before the incident. However, news accounts say there have been dropped calls and missing ANI/ALI information from 911 calls with the new software. Read more about the incident here.
A New Haven (Conn.) dispatcher helped save a four year-old boy who was found unconscious in a backyard swimming pool on Monday. David Mancini used EMD protocol cards to give the 911 caller instructions, and that person then relayed them to another person at the pool. The child survived and is expected to recover.
Police officials in Terre Haute (Ind.) have confirmed that the wife of K-9 Officer Brent Long was working in the comm center on Monday when her husband was shot and killed by a suspect during a warrant service. Officials did not say if Danielle Long was working the radio during the incident or how she learned of the shooting. Off. Long and a team of U.S. Marshals had gone to a home on the city’s north side. The suspect opened fire immediately when the team of officers and marshals entered the house Monday afternoon, striking Long several times and wounding his dog Shadow. Officers shot back and killed the suspect. Long was taken to a hospital where he later died. Shadow is in critical condition with a head wound but is expected to survive. Off. Long was a six-year veteran of the agency. He and and his wife Danielle have an 11 year-old daughter and 10 month-old son.
A 13 year-old Elgin (Ill.) girl was home by herself when she heard someone breaking a window, and her first thought was to call her aunt instead of 911. But when the aunt dialed 911 for help, Elgin police dispatcher Kathy Grage called the girl directly and guided her through a frightening ordeal—hiding from two burglars who were trying to take the family’s big-screen television. Grage said she could hear the men in the background of the call, and simultaneously tried to obtain information from the girl and keep her calm and quiet. “Police are just pulling up,” she told the girl towards the end of the call. “I’ve got lots and lots of officers outside. Everything’s going to be okay.” Police arrested two men outside the home and the girl was uninjured. Watch a news video after the break. [click to continue…]
By 2019 all wireless carriers must be using handset-based location technology when handling 911 emergency telephone calls, according to rule changes imposed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) today to improve the accuracy of locating callers. In addition, the FCC is seeking input on how commercial location applications might be leveraged to support 911 networks, and how to improve indoor location accuracy, such as in a skyscraper. Right now, FCC regulations set two different accuracy standards—one for carriers using network-based technologies and a second for those using handset-based tech. The standards take into account that network methods are inherently less accurate, and that in rural areas might be sufficiently accurate to locate callers. However, the Commission has been tightening accuracy rules over the last 10 years, including changing how carriers determine and report their system accuracy to the FCC. The Commission also asked for public comments on how to improve VoIP call location accuracy. Download (pdf) the announcement of the Commission’s order here, and the full Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, Third Report and Order, and Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking here. Also, download (pdf) FCC commissioners statements on their rulemaking.