A Barnstable County (Mass.) dispatcher’s handling of a 911 call reporting a choking victim was “outrageous,” according to a national expert, and the dispatcher’s near silence during the call was “dispatcher abandonment.” Brent McFarland dialed 911 last month when he found his fiancée choking on a marshmallow, but received little advice during the 12-minute call. During three periods of nearly two minutes each, the dispatcher said nothing, and didn’t respond to McFarland’s pleas for help. His fiancée Kate died at the hospital after EMS units were delayed, possibly by confusion over McFarland’s house address. Dr. Jeff Clawson, considered the father of emergency medical dispatch (EMD), told a reporter he was “dumbfounded” by the dispatcher’s unresponsiveness in the face of a completely correctable emergency. “A child could’ve help that man,” he said. County officials have been tight-lipped about the incident, but did say dispatchers are trained in EMD through an Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO) program. Read more about the incident and listen to the 911 call here. Update: The local newspaper obtained the county’s dispatcher training manual, and the reporter wrote that the dispatcher did not follow many of the procedures in the manual, including EMD procedures. The county sheriff would not say if the unnamed dispatcher who answered the call has been fired or otherwise disciplined. McFarland called for the dispatcher to be charged criminally for not giving medical instructions. Update 2: On Dec. 31, 2010 county sheriff James Cummings wrote Mashpee selectmen to say dispatcher Rhonda Colburn, who handled the incident, resigned Dec. 27th. Colburn was an 11-year veteran with the rank of sergeant. Cummings said Colburn resigned before a disciplinary board was convened to hear the results of an investigation into the incident. Read more here. read more
The 13 largest state-level public safety agencies in California have completed a first-ever review of radio communications, and have issued a 70-page plan to eventually bring integrated voice and data services throughout the state. The 70-page plan focuses on technical issues such as narrowbanding and interoperability, but also consolidation, governance and the future. It lists the various agency systems and rates their capabilities—the corrections agency is in the “high-risk” category, while the Highway Patrol and Military Department are rated “good.” No agency is rated in the “ideal” category for communications. The report concludes that the best method of improving state-level public safety radio is to adopt a “system of systems” approach, which would feature a lower cost than other options, yet meet nearly all the goals. One of the many goals is to reduce the number of systems used by the state by, “increasing the collaboration between agencies and consolidating the disparate radio infrastructures.” Lastly, the plan sets a 10-year roadmap that begins with establishing improved governance and ending with deployment of shared radio systems. Download (pdf, 28 Mb) the entire plan here.
Law enforcement officials in North Carolina are investigating the disappearance of a 10 year-old girl from her home, and the 911 call that her father made to report he had found a ransom note after an arson fire in the family’s backyard. Zahra Baker had bone cancer and used hearing aids. Adam Baker told a Hickory police dispatcher that he believed the fire in his backyard was a diversion while the kidnappers entered the house, went upstairs and abducted his daughter. But police doubt the parents’ story that they last saw Zahra 12 hours before the incident, and that neither thought to check on her after the fire or when the ransom note was found. Read more and listen to the 911 logging tape here.
A report by Chicago’s oversight agency has concluded that officials of the Office of Emergency Management and Communications (OEMC) falsified documents related to the 2005 purchase of $23 million of radio gear, allowing Motorola to obtain the contract without competitive bids. The report was obtained by the Chicago Tribune, and shows that Inspector General Joseph Ferguson found false information in the justification for allowing the sole-source bid award. Specifically, the OEMC had stated the city already had a $2 million investment in Motorola gear, when in fact the total was just $350,000 at the time. Based on the false statements, the city’s Sole Source Review Board approved the purchase. Ferguson’s report also cited the OEMC’s, “long-running failure to effectively manage the procurement and contract process presents a significant risk to the city’s emergency preparedness, fiscal security and grant compliance.” Ron Huberman, who headed the OEMC at the time, now heads the city’s school district, and told the newspaper he was at the agency for only 13 months. “I regret that some of this misconduct occurred during my tenure,” he told a reporter. Read more about the report here.
When the wife of an 89 year-old man dialed 911 for help in Odessa (Fla.), she expected a Code 3 ambulance. Instead, a Hillsborough County dispatcher evaluated the call, determined it was a non-emergency, and offered to send a BLS ambulance to the couple’s home, a one-hour trip. But an angry neighbor grabbed the phone, told the dispatcher she would transport Ken Ervin to the hospital, and then hung up. Ervin died the next day from an aortic aneurysm. The family hasn’t filed a formal complaint, county officials say, but they have raised questions about why an ALS ambulance wasn’t immediately dispatched for Ervin. Meg Plyant, Ervin’s daughter, said the dispatcher asked too many questions and incorrectly diagnosed Ervin’s problem. “My dad was hollering in pain,” she recalled. “He was doubled over, screaming.” County Fire-Rescue spokesperson Ray Yeakley told a reporter that stomach ailments typically aren’t life-threatening. But he admitted, “This turned out to be something much more severe.” Yeakley didn’t mention it, but the county’s dispatchers use the Medical Priority Dispatch System to evaluate and screen medically-related 911 calls. Read more about the incident here.
When a Washington County (Minn.) dispatcher answered a 911 call last Tuesday, it was obvious to the dispatcher that something horrible had occurred. A man walking in Humphries Park in the city of Lakeland happened across two bodies on the ground, both obviously dead from gunshot wounds to the head. “They’re both gone,” the man said. “They’re both dead,” he explained to the calltaker. The man was audibly crying, sniffling and sometimes inaudible as he used his cellular phone to make the call. Despite his emotions, the man seemed to realize the seriousness of his call, as he was able to give precise directions to the obscure location, at the top of a hill accessible only by a 100 foot climb up a hill. He described his car at the bottom of the hill, and said that he had checked the victims’ pulse at the carotid artery. “Shotgun to the head?” the dispatcher asked. “Both of them, and their…the tops of their skulls are both gone,” the man replied. After the calltaker assured the man that emergency units were enroute, at one point the calltaker asked the man to walk back down the hill—”You really don’t need to put yourself through this,” the calltaker said. But the caller insisted—perhaps through some emotional connection with the victim—to stay at the scene. “I’m goin’…I’m going to stay here,” he said. Still crying, the man awaited deputies, at one point shining his cell phone screen down the hill to guide them. Read more about the incident here, and download (pdf) the 911 call transcript here.
When windows started shattering at Des Moines (Iowa) television station KCCI, employees dialed 911 to report they were under fire from a gunman, setting off a chain of events that ended with an officer-involved shooting. What the employees actually heard was windows breaking as a man was hurling rocks at the station, enraged from a possibly psychiatric condition. The first 911 calls to police dispatchers mentioned gunfire, but without any real confirmation. Dispatchers sent officers to the scene believing they were looking for a gunman. A KCCI employee who had gone outside the building was holding his cellular phone when an officer spotted him in the shadows. After telling him to freeze, the employee began pointing in the direction of the actual suspect. Fearing the person was pointing a gun, the officer fired at the employee, but missed. The employee then yelled out his identity, and the actual suspect was chased down and arrested. Police have met with station officials, explaining how the shooting mistake occurred. Read more about the incident and listen to the 911 calls here, and consider what dispatcher questions might have clarified the situation at the TV station.
A bill signed by President Obama on Monday will upgrade existing law to require improved access to electronic communications for those with disabilities, and will also establish a committee to guide development of a next-generation 911 (NG911) network so it’s accessible to all. The Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 revises existing law on hearing aid compatibility, relay services, closed captioning and user interfaces on digital devices to improve their use by people who cannot see or hear, are paralyzed in some way or have speech disabilities. The changes will require both technical and interface changes for many devices, such as programming guides on TVs. The Act also requires formation of an Emergency Access Advisory Committee within 60 days, composed of “a balance between individuals with disabilities and other stakeholders,” including state and local government officials and subject matter experts. Within a year, the committee will conduct a survey, “to determine the most effective and efficient technologies and methods by which to enable access to emergency services by individuals with disabilities.” The committee will also submit their recommendations on how the future NG911 network can be designed, built and operated to provide equal access. Download (pdf) the Act here (read Section 108).
An 81 year-old Ohio woman died in a house fire reported by her neighbors, but firefighters initially responded to the wrong location because of cellular 911 calls routed to an adjacent county and duplicate street names. Mary Clark was found dead inside her home when the fire was extinguished, and the state fire marshal is investigating if a quicker response might have saved her. Fire officials say the first 911 call reporting the at 8160 Lithopolis Road in Franklin County came from a cellular phone. Because the address is near the boundary for two other counties, the call was routed to the Fairfield County sheriff’s comm center. The caller gave the correct address, which happens to be duplicated in the two counties. The caller also said the fire was in Bloom Township, which is only in Fairfield County. Based on the address and the Bloom County mention, Fairfield County dispatchers sent firefighters to that address in their jurisdiction, four miles from the actual fire. Fifteen minutes later, firefighters discovered the mistake, and Madison Township firefighters were dispatched to the correct location in Franklin County. Read more about the incident and listen to 911 calls here.
A Wisconsin man who fled a traffic stop after allegedly being beaten by an officer is still guilty of eluding under state law, even though he claimed to be heading to police headquarters to file a report. Daniel Hanson was stopped by a Kenosha County sheriff’s deputy in 2007 for speeding on I-94. Hanson immediately got out of his car and was agitated, the deputy later testified. Hanson refused to get back inside his car as instructed by the deputy, so the deputy removed his baton from the belt loop. Hanson then complied but again exited the car as the deputy wrote the ticket. At that point the deputy radioed for backup and told Hanson he was under arrest. Hanson ran to his car and drove off. Eventually deputies boxed-in Hanson’s car, broke a window and arrested him. Hanson’s testimony was almost entirely opposite, saying the deputy was the person who was agitated, and who struck him on the neck with the baton. Both parties agree that Hanson dialed 911 immediately upon leaving the scene, telling a dispatcher that he’d been beaten, and that he was driving to a police station because he was scared for his life. A jury found him guilty of eluding, and Hanson appealed. He claimed that, “he cannot be fleeing and eluding police if he calls 911 and tells the police where he is going.” But the state Appellate Court ruled the destination was irrelevant. The 911 logging tape proved that Hanson could hear the deputies’ sirens, the court noted. Hanson’s objection that the jury hearing the unedited logging tape was also turned down by the court. The panel said the jury had been told to disregard certain dispatcher statements, such as, “You’re violating the law” and “You’re endangering other cars.” Download (pdf) the full court decision here.
A DeSoto County (La.) sheriff’s dispatcher was suspended for three days without pay after failing to properly relay information to deputies, who were pursuing a car they believed had been involved in a shooting. Sheriff Rodney Arbuckle didn’t name the radio dispatcher or say exactly how the mistake was made. He did say that a man burning trash was singed when he added gasoline to the fire. The flare-up also created a loud noise that nearby game wardens believed was gunfire. When the wardens arrived to investigate, they saw a vehicle speeding away, and began a pursuit. However, the vehicle was being driven by the homeowner, Donna Craig, who was speeding the man to a nearby hospital. She had called 911 for help, but then decided not to wait for an ambulance. The wardens and deputies chased the vehicle until it turned into the hospital’s ER driveway. At that same moment the 911 calltaker, in a separate building, relayed to the sheriff’s radio dispatcher that the vehicle was not involved in a shooting, but didn’t provide a vehicle description. Seconds later, Craig got out of the car and was tackled by deputies and briefly detained in handcuffs. E911 manager Bruce Vanderhoeven said he didn’t discipline any 911 employees, but has instructed dispatchers to obtain full vehicle descriptions for future medical transports by citizens. The deputy who detained Craig resigned, and another deputy received a five-day suspension without pay. Read the full story here.
Two recent news articles on the subject of local 911 systems have raised an obvious question: exactly why would anyone spend billions of dollars to build an entirely new electronic network to carry emergency information from the public to PSAPs? According to both of the articles, the goal of a nationwide Next Generation 911 (NG911) network would be to transmit text messages and video to dispatchers—that’s it. For some reason, those are the only two features that comm center managers and tech providers have latched onto, and are promoting to the public when asking for funds to upgrade their systems. read more
According to a federal lawsuit filed by former Bucks County (Penn.) dispatchers, their supervisor made sexually suggestive remarks, told lewd jokes and inappropriately touched them over a 21-year period, and the county took no action to stop the behavior. Former dispatchers Maura McCormick, Marie Fund and Nicole Crescenzo filed their lawsuit against David Neil Jr. and the county last May in federal court, while Lucille Olivieri filed a separate lawsuit last year. Neil was fired in April 2008, the lawsuit notes. But prior to that, the lawsuit claims Neil offered preferential vacation and days-off in exchange for prescription drugs or sex, and asked them sexually-explicit questions. Olivieri’s lawsuit states she reported Neil’s behavior to the county human resources department, but was told, “Oh, Dave Neil. Just ignore him. He’s a pain in the ass.” When Olivieri complained to comm center supervisors, they made similar comments, and Neil’s harassing behavior continued, the lawsuit states. Olivieri suffered panic attacks, had to take time off work and was forced to take blood pressure medication. The attorney for Neil says the claims are “completely baseless,” while the county says they promptly took action when notified of the harassment problems. The women are asking for unstated compensatory and punitive damages. Read more about the lawsuit here, and download (pdf) the lawsuit court documents here.
There have been three days of testimony by dispatchers in front of a Winnebago County (Ill.) merit commission, which is investigating charges that a sheriff’s sergeant created a hostile workplace in the comm center. But citing uncertainties over confidentiality of the charges, the county board hasn’t released specifics on the allegations against Sgt. Aaron Booker. So far, dispatchers have testified about Booker’s behavior, including that he frequently slept at work, lost his temper and intimidated dispatchers. Coincidentally, Booker is running as the Republican candidate for sheriff against incumbent Dick Meyers. Read more about the investigation here.
A national law enforcement group has researched the issue of how Internet social media can be used for investigations, community outreach and recruiting, but also how it should be regulated to prevent negative effects for agencies. The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) has posted a “concepts and issues paper” and a model policy on using social media that attempts to strike a balance between positive official use of Twitter, Facebook and other Web resources, and yet still meet freedom of speech requirements when social media are used off-duty use by employees. Earlier this year a Wisconsin dispatcher was fired after posting on Facebook that she was addicted to drugs. She later pointed to the word “Ha” in the posting, traditionally an indication that the posting is a joke. She is appealing her termination. Within weeks of that incident the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) announced formation of a group to study use of social media by comm centers. Download (pdf) the IACP concepts and issues paper here, and the model policy here.