A new survey conducted by a political action group has found near-unanimous support for improved 911 location accuracy among responding public safety answering point (PSAP) employees, especially for the 64% of calls that are made from indoor locations. The on-line survey conducted by the Find Me 911 coalition showed a startlingly high number of calls are made by callers who can’t provide their location, forcing dispatchers to rely on 911 network technology—or skill—to determine a response location. The survey results seem to provide support for new regulations proposed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) last February that would require more accurate indoor 911 locations, including vertical locations within multi-story buildings. The regulations were sparked by an increasingly number of callers using cellular phones from indoors. The new survey found that 76% of 911 calls are now made from wireless phones, and that 24% of respondents have very little or no confidence in the caller’s displayed location. Those surveyed also said that 84% of calls are sometimes or often inaccurate. Not surprisingly, 87% of respondents said Phase II 911 information was “critically important” to help location callers. The Find Me 911 coalition bills itself as a grassroots movement, but is financially backed by TruePosition Inc., a company that provides wireless location technology. TruePosition is lobbying Congress and the FCC to improve 911 call location accuracy, which could benefit itself and other companies who offer alternate technologies for locating cellular phones. Download the group’s PSAP survey, press release and respondent personal stories here. details
In a narrow 5-4 decision yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that anonymous tips from the public provided during 911 telephone calls can be used as the starting point for a vehicle stop, eventually leading to an arrest and conviction. But the court said in the California case there were several specific steps and situations along the way that permitted CHP officers to stop a vehicle reportedly being driven erratically, making the decision difficult to use as a precedent in future incidents. In its decision, the court said the 911 caller provided specific information about the vehicle and its poor driving, including that there had been a near-accident. The court also gave weight to the source of the call—a 911 emergency system. “A 911 call has some features that allow for identifying and tracing callers, and thus provide some safeguards against making false reports with immunity,” the court wrote. Given these features, “A reasonable officer could conclude that a false tipster would think twice before using such a system. The caller’s use of the 911 system is therefore one of the relevant circumstances that, taken together, justified the officer’s reliance on the information reported in the 911 call.” The court also considered that the caller’s information gave rise to the suspicion of drunk driving, and to the accuracy of the location the caller gave. Download the original court filing (pdf), read an analysis of the court’s decision by ScotusBlog, and read the Supreme Court’s full decision (pdf version).
Police in Denver (Colo.) held a press conference last week to address questions about a 13-minute response time to an incident that ended with the murder of a woman by her husband, while she was on the phone with a police dispatcher. In addition, police have admitted that a dispatcher did not broadcast information to officers that the husband had armed himself and the woman was screaming. Instead, a patrol officer noticed the notation on his in-car laptop and broadcast the information to other responding officers. Police said the 13-minute response time was normal, and within the average Priority 1 response time for the last four years (response time info, pdf). They also said an investigation is underway on whether the radio dispatcher erred by not broadcasting critical information to officers. Kristine Kirk dialed 911 when her husband became erratic after eating legal marijuana candy. Kirk dialed 911 and an unnamed calltaker took information from her that there was a gun in the house, but it was locked in a safe. Officers were dispatched almost immediately, police said, and the calltaker stayed on the line with Kirk to update the information in the computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system. After about 12 minutes Kirk told the calltaker that her husband has retrieved the handgun, and one minute later Kirk screamed and there was no further conversation. One minute later, the officer noticed the firearm notation on his laptop, and arriving officers found Kirk dead from a gunshot. Her husband was arrested and charged with murder. Read more about the incident timeline here. Update: The day after the incident, Denver officials put calltaker on administrative leave, and later changed its policy to include more incidents for a “Code 10″ emergency response. Read more about the priority code changes. A disciplinary action was begun in mid-May, and at the same time Fox31-TV reported that a recent software update may have contributed to the delayed relay of information to officers.
Bucking the tradition of having the Los Angeles Fire Department communications center staffed by firefighters, and perhaps hoping to stem on-going criticism of slow EMS responses, the city’s mayor has proposed consolidating the police and fire comm centers in his latest budget proposal. The project is among several proposed to meet mayor Eric Garcetti’s goals of making the city safe, prosperous, livable and sustainable and well-run. “By having Police and Fire response served by a single operation, we can ensure the right resources get to the scene of emergencies as quickly as possible—and cut costs over time by eliminating duplication and inefficiencies,” Garcetti said in his 2014-2015 budget proposal. Los Angeles is reportedly the largest U.S. city with a fire comm center staffed by firefighters. As recently as last year during his mayoral campaign, Garcetti opposed consolidating the police and fire comm centers. But in his latest budget proposal, Garcetti set aside $1.285 million to the police department to cover staff and expenses to “enhance, improve, and configure the Police Department’s Computer-Aided Dispatch (CAD) system to accommodate the Fire CAD.” Garcetti also allocated an additional $2.2 million from the city’s Special Police Communications/911 System Tax Fund for professional services related to the consolidation project, and $167,000 to fund an LAFD chief information officer for technology-related projects. The consolidation effort could take several years to complete. details
According to a lawsuit just filed in federal court, a Hartford (Conn.) police dispatcher sent police units to the wrong location of a reported shooting, and officers failed to find the body of the victim, even though he was lying in the grass just off the sidewalk. About nine hours later, a resident discovered the victim in her yard and called police, who found the victim was dead, in the same area the original caller had reported. According to the lawsuit, dispatcher Jennifer Martinez was “sarcastic, condescending and impatient” with the original 911 caller, failed to confirm the caller’s address and hung up on the caller. The caller correctly gave her address as 311 Linnmoore St., but for an unknown reason Martinez dispatched officers to 39 Linnmoore St., about three-quarters of a mile away. When other residents dialed 911 to report hearing gunfire, the officers were re-dispatched to the correct location, about four minutes after the original 911 call. But the lawsuit alleges the officers did not communicate with residents in the area and failed to find the victim, who lay in the grass until the next morning. The lawsuit claims Martinez already had a “sub-standard” performance history when the incident occurred, and had been previously disciplined. The lawsuit also names Andrew Jaffee as a defendant, the city’s head of emergency services and telecommunications who was fired by the mayor in Aug. 2013 for poor leadership of the comm center. Download (pdf) the full lawsuit and read more information about the lawsuit here.
Just two hours into her first full day on the job, Dekalb County (Geo.) 911 dispatcher Crystal Morrow fielded a call reporting that her own father had gone into diabetic shock. Morrow’s aunt made the call, and Morrow handled it completely before colleagues told her to leave and join her family. Read more about the incident here.
A nearly simultaneous 911 outage hit all of Washington state and significant parts of Oregon starting early Thursday morning, apparently caused by unrelated problems in the CenturyLink communications network that handles emergency calls. It was the most widespread 911 outage in the United States in recent times. No serious consequences resulted from the outages, but officials did say that many callers with emergencies could not immediately reach local first-responders for help when using wired telephones. According to state officials, a caller in Oregon reported the first problem at about 1:30 a.m. when he/she heard a busy signal after dialing 911. Dispatchers throughout Oregon then began receiving calls on 10-digit telephone lines from callers who said 911 wasn’t working. Within an hour problems began to surface in Washington. Officials said Oregon 911 service was restored by 6:30 a.m. Thursday, and Washington’s problems were fixed by 8 a.m. CenturyLink serves both states, and in a statement said the problems were unrelated. The company said it’s continuing its investigation into the outage. However, one comm center director said the Washington incident stemmed from a faulty network card that crashed a computer when it was replaced by technicians. The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission announced it would open an investigation into the incident. Read more about the incident here. Update: CenturyLink later reported that a third-party call router caused the Washington outage, and that 4,500 calls had been blocked.
There was no delay in communications or response to a fatal shooting at the Los Angeles World Airport last November, but a new city analysis of the incident is critical of incident management, radio interoperability and public alerting. The 82-page report delves deeply into planning, coordination and training, but also reveals smaller technical details about 911 and radio that hindered the best possible response. The incident occurred on Nov. 12, 2013 when a man entered Terminal 3 and fatally shot a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officer at a passenger security checkpoint. He then moved through the airport firing his weapon until airport police officers engaged and shot him within four minutes. Despite being resolved quickly, the incident necessarily touched off a huge evacuation of the airport, a massive emergency response, and operations to insure the airport was safe from other suspects. Even though the incident occurred at one of the country’s busiest airports, its lessons are applicable to any size of agency. 911-radio details
A Minneapolis (Minn.) 911 dispatcher has gone public with her criticism of staffing levels at the center, directly calling on the mayor to fulfill a campaign promise to make the city safer. The problem seems to center on a training program intended to cross-train dispatchers for the calltaking and radio dispatching jobs. Robin Jones is a 30-year veteran, and last month told a WCCO-TV reporter that sometimes there is just one calltaker on-duty to answer 911 calls because of on-going training. There is overtime—up to 550 hours a month—but sometimes it’s not filled, and those working overtime are frazzled, Jones said. Internal memos indicate that 911 call answer times increased from an average of six seconds in 2011 to 10.4 seconds in 2013. WCCO began receiving citizen complaints last December, leading to a series of video reports on 911 call answering delays. The TV reports just prompted a blog response from mayor Betsy Hodges, who said a union election prevented her from commenting earlier, and that the comm center is now implementing a “common-sense” staffing model that combines job duties and is based on call demand. Read more about the current developments here, and the earlier TV investigation here. Update: WCCO-TV has posted a new story comparing Minneapolis’ center with the Douglas County (Omaha, Neb.) center.
The Rock County (Wisc.) Communications Center is working to reduce the number of non-emergency 911 calls it receives every year—about 34 percent of the total 70,000 annual calls. With the assistance of a local musician they have produced an public education music video that promotes the use of its non-emergency telephone number for barking dogs, parking violations and other situations. Read more about the video here.
In the wake of a New York state incident of malicious jamming of a fire department radio channel, a member of Congress is now proposing a bill that would criminalize such acts with severe penalties. Under current law, intentionally interfering with radio communications results in only a civil penalty, with fines up to $16,000 a day. U.S. Rep. Peter King (R) announced Monday that his legislation would make public safety radio interference a federal felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. King was motivated by an incident last year during which someone transmitted on the T-band radio channel for the Melville Fire Department. The transmissions included words and chanting, officials said. After 10 months, police made an arrest with the help of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). King has not formally introduced the legislation in Congress.
The Connecticut Supreme Court has reversed a $12 million verdict against the town of Clinton, saying one of its dispatchers didn’t realize a 911 caller was pursuing a hit-and-run suspect at high speeds, and so was not liable under state law when the suspect struck a tree and was seriously injured. The conservator of Walker Hopkins sued the city in 2005, claiming that dispatcher Ellen Vece should have instructed the 911 caller to stop chasing Hopkins, who had struck the caller’s vehicle, causing some damage. The plaintiff said Vece should have foreseen the potential danger in allowing the 911 caller to continue following the suspect vehicle. If true, the town would be liable under the “identifiable person–imminent harm” exception in the state’s governmental immunity law. A local court agreed with the conservator’s claims and awarded her substantial damages for Hopkins’ continuing care. However, the Supreme Court disagreed that Vece could have foreseen the danger, and reversed the lower court’s decision. details
As part of a wider review of the city’s response to emergency medical incidents, a private consultant has recommended that the Los Angeles fire and police computer-aided dispatch (CAD) systems be merged into single system, and that 198 fire department positions be civilianized, including firefighter dispatchers in the communications center. The consultants also recommended variable staffing based on prior analysis of time-of-day and location data for EMS incidents. The consulting company, PA Consulting Group, has been looking at ways to improve the deployment of fire department resources, and in this review focused on EMS operations. In their 85-page report, the consultants mentioned the department culture hasn’t changed over the past 30 years as fire hazards have decreased and medical incidents have increased. The department is too dependent upon sworn personnel, “even where a civilian with the required technical skills would be more effective.” Perhaps most significantly, the department is “almost entirely a reactive organization,” without a strategic direction or plan. details
The Los Angeles (Calif.) Fire Department is in breach of its contract to use emergency medical dispatching (EMD) protocols, according to the company who created them, and must stop using them within 60 days. That thorny situation was presented to the department in a hand-delivered letter Monday from Dr. Jeff Clawson representing Priority Dispatch. It culminates a years-long newspaper investigation into slow responses to medical emergencies in the city, and criticism of the EMD protocols by fire department officials earlier this year. Last month the fire department announced it would begin devising its own set of EMD protocols to improve upon the Priority Dispatch set. In the face of that criticism, Clawson defended the protocols, which grew from the originals he created at the Salt Lake City Fire Department in the 1970s. He also criticized the LAFD for misusing the protocols and creating “a threat to the health, safety and welfare of every man, woman and child in the City. ” Now, Clawson has taken the next step, invoking the company’s right to cancel the its contract with the city over “misuse” and an “Unsafe Practice.” Specifically, Clawson claimed in his letter, dispatchers are, “not using the protocols appropriately, misapplying the protocols, or not using them at all.” The letter also clearly indicates he is upset with “untruthful” statements by city officials that blame the protocols, instead of “dispatch errors by firefighter/calltakers who are not complying with the MPDS protocols.” Clawson said the company has the right to revoke the EMD license immediately, but was allowing the fire department 60 days in order to safely transition to alternate protocols. Read more about the situation here, and download (pdf) Clawson’s letter to the LAFD.
An Illinois legislator is hoping to fill a gap in state law that now allows employees of law enforcement agencies, including dispatchers, to tip off people about a criminal investigation and yet not be criminally prosecuted. The proposed law was introduced by state senator David Koehler in January, and was specifically focused on public safety dispatchers who might contact friend, relatives or others, and give them confidential information about an criminal investigation. A 2020 Illinois Supreme Court case highlighted the law gap when it overturned the conviction of a Glenwood police dispatcher who allegedly tipped off her boyfriend about a drug investigation. Under Koehler’s proposed bill, it would be a crime to communicate information acquired during employment, “to obstruct, impeded, or prevent the investigation, apprehension or prosecution” of any offense or person. The bill was passed by the Senate yesterday, and now moves to a rules committee before being considered by the House. Download (pdf) the current version of the bill here.