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The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has received a handful of comments in response to its inquiry into a multi-state 911 outage last April, some explaining how the outage prevented 911 calls from being completed and others asking how the problem will be prevented in the future. The outage primarily affected public safety answering points (PSAP) in Washington, Minnesota and North Carolina, but other states also reported scattered outages at local 911 networks. In one set of comments filed by telecom provider CenturyLink, the company confirmed earlier reports that an Intrado computer programming error knocked several 911 networks off-line. The company also said that alarms were activated, but didn’t receive immediate priority attention by technicians. The outage lasted for six hours, CenturyLink said, and blocked at least 4,500 calls to 911. Officials of King County (Wash.) also filed comments, outlining their outage experience. As PSAPs began reporting problems, “The CenturyLink 911 Repair Center was quickly overloaded,” King County said. “The majority of the calls from PSAPs to the Repair Center to report the problem went unanswered or were put on hold for extended periods.” Once Intrado determined the problem, “They had to call in technicians and engineers from home to identify the cause and scope of the problem, which delayed the rerouting of 911 calls by several hours.” The Telecommunications & Information Association (TIA) filed comments telling the FCC that regulatory action wasn’t required, and that the FCC should support the voluntary actions being taken by companies to ensure network reliability. Download (pdf) the FCC’s original inquiry here, and the latest comments here.

In the midst of research by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on tightening 911 call locating regulations, a company that offers location technology has posted a study that claims existing methods can meet any future requirements. The study was performed by an independent engineering firm for TruePosition, and is meant to counter claims by cellular carriers that current technology can’t locate cellular 911 callers under more stringent proposed FCC rules, including for callers inside buildings. According to a TruePosition press release, “The study clearly demonstrates that existing technologies can satisfy location requirements within the timeframe proposed by the FCC in its draft rule on indoor 9-1-1 accuracy for wireless calls.” The tests were conducted earlier this year by TechnoCom in the Wilmington (Del.) area, and used UTDOA on a Samsung Galaxy S3 smartphone. The firm concluded that the location-finding performance, “readily meets the FCC’s proposed location performance threshold for indoor wireless E911.” In fact, the technology already meets the 50-meter/80% requirement that won’t be required by the FCC for another five years. Download (pdf) the 84-page TruePosition study here.

A city audit of staffing at the Denver (Colo.) police department has found that longer response times are directly correlated to having fewer police officers and comm center dispatchers, and also uncovered that the department doesn’t use response times to help measure its success in fighting crime. The 56-page study recommended that the police department specifically determine how many officers its requires to accomplish its primary objectives, and that the agency routinely publish response time statistics to help establish performance goals. Since 2008 DPD has cancelled several academies, and along with attrition have left DPD with just 1,332 officers, compared to 1,550 officers in Jan. 2008, a 14 percent decline. Meanwhile, the average response times for Priority 0-2 for 2008–2013 increased from 11.4 minutes to 14.3 minutes, the audit found. Strangely, the police department does not routinely print-out or review response time reports, including the time from call pick-up to officer arrival. In the comm center, call waiting times are not monitored by supervisors, the auditors found, potentially leading to delayed responses. In their analysis, the auditors found that pick-up to queue times have actually decreased by one minute over the last six years. However, times have increased by four minutes for the incident handling segments of queue-to-assign and assign-to-arrival. The auditor recommended the police department begin monitoring queue times, and consider publicly releasing response time reports to the public. Download (pdf) the full audit here for more information on Denver’s situation, an explanation of response time statistics, and how DPD can begin increasing its staffing.

For the second time in six years, a Detroit (Mich.) police dispatcher has been criminally charged for mishandling a critical incident, and now faces up to a year in jail. The shooting last August led the mayor to shake-up the city’s communications center, including a demotion for the then-head of the unit. Both Detroit incidents demonstrate that public safety dispatchers not only face discipline or termination for misconduct, but can also face criminal charges. Detroit dispatcher Craig Miller, 46, was arraigned last week on neglect of duty charges, and was released on $5,000 bail. He will appear again in court on Thursday. He was handling radio dispatching last August when a woman reported a dispute with her boyfriend. Despite a series of escalating calls, officers weren’t dispatched for about one hour. By the time officers arrived, the woman had been stabbed, but survived her injuries. According to the prosecutor, Miller, “failed several times to dispatch officers in a timely manner to a 911 police run.” In a separate case, Wayne County prosecutor Kym Worthy said another Detroit dispatcher would not be criminally charged for handling of a shooting in May 2013. Worthy said there was insufficient evidence to support a conviction on neglect of duty charges. Criminal charges against public safety dispatchers are rare, despite Detroit’s experience. In 2008 a Detroit dispatcher was found guilty of mishandling a 911 call from a boy reporting his mother was unconscious. She faced a year in jail, but was sentenced to one year of probation and 15 days of community service. A second dispatcher in the incident was acquitted.

A police investigation into a Milwaukee (Wisc.) hospital incident has found there were problems with the agency’s radio system, poor officer training and an error in the computer-aided dispatch (CAD) geofile, all leading to an injured infant and police shooting the suspect as he ran through the facility’s hallways. The investigation suggested several procedure and technical changes to improve how officers respond to Children’s Hospital in the future, and to critical incidents in general. The incident began when a woman called Milwaukee PD’s non-emergency number, and was transferred to the “differential response unit,” which normally handles incidents by telephone. A limited-duty officer there entered the incident details into the computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system. He classified it as a Priority 1 since it involved the suspect and child then at Children’s Hospital. However, the incident should have been Priority 2, and the hospital is outside the city, and within the jurisdiction of the county sheriff. The comm center radio dispatcher, believing the incident had been properly entered into CAD, dispatched the incident to two officers. The officers took 30 minutes to arrive, and when they confronted the armed suspect, they experienced reception problems with the department’s Open Sky radio system. The investigation also cited several tactical errors by the officers, starting when they arrived at the hospital. The investigation recommended changes to CAD in order to flag outside-jurisdiction locations, and officer training on prioritizing CAD incidents. Read more about the incident and investigation here.

A panel of public safety, telephone and technical experts appeared before a U.S. Senate subcommittee on Thursday to explain the on-going transition of public safety communications to the Internet protocol (IP), pointing out the advantages of the technology, but also warning Congress of the pitfalls. The witnesses made it clear that adopting IP will take time and money, but depending upon their constituency, asked the Senators for regulatory or funding assistance. The upcoming NG911 national network would use IP to transport calls from end-to-end, allowing many service advantages for callers and public safety answering points (PSAP). But it also creates many potential issues from creating a nationwide and super-linked 911 system. Gigi Smith, president of the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO), said IP voice quality was essential, so 911 calltakers can “hear and pass along subtle background sounds” when taking calls. She also mentioned reliability and restoration as key elements of IP-based public safety systems. Henning Schulzrinne, chief technology officer for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), mentioned potential security issues, including denial of service attacks, determining a caller’s location and reliability. He also explained how various public warning systems would be included in an IP network, and that location-finding is the most immediate challenge. The Senators also heard testimony from Jonathan Banks, Sr. VP of U.S. Telecom, Jodie Griffin, Sr. staff attorney for the public interest group Public Knowledge, and Colette Honorable, president of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners. Watch the entire hearing video (1:43) here, and download (pdf) their testimony here. [click to continue…]

An analysis of calls handled by the Dane County (Wisc.) 911 Center shows that dispatchers are handling about 15,000 fewer calls over the last six years and has 17 more employees, yet incident dispatch times are an average of one minute longer. Now county executive Joe Parisi has ordered the center’s director to make changes to reduce call handling times, specifically dropping the use of Priority Dispatch protocols to help cut 25 seconds off the call handling process. Parisi wrote a memo last week to center director Joe Dejung outlining the protocol change and several others, and asking the 911 Board to approve them. “It needs to act and act now,” Parisi wrote. “If the Center is unable to help fix the issues facing the 911 Center in the next 45 days, this speaks to a problem with governance and oversight.” The center was the subject of intense scrutiny in 2008 after a high-profile murder that included a mishandled 911 call from the victim’s apartment. After the resignation of the center’s director in 2009, the 911 Board put Priority Dispatch protocols into place to ensure proper handling of all calls. Now Parisi points to the protocols as slowing down call handling, leaving fewer dispatchers available to promptly answer telephone calls. Besides dropping the police protocols, Parisi ordered changes to better handle seasonal call volume patterns, the hiring of part-timers, a review of the abandoned call process, and the direct-routing of some incidents directly to officers to bypass dispatchers. Download (pdf) Parisi’s memo for more details on his ordered changes, and read more about the situation here.

Frustrated with a decade of missed deadlines, technical failures and $1.3 billion in spending, New York City mayor Bill de Blasio has shut down the city’s emergency communications upgrade project, and ordered a multi-agency review of how the project should move forward. In a press release, de Blasio said his office has been examining the project since he took office in January, and, “uncovered additional technical design, systems integration and project management risks beyond the previously publicly documented challenges.” The expansive project started in 2009 with the intent to create a single-location comm center for the city’s police, fire and EMS agencies, which had operated independently for 100 years. The project also included 911, comm center and radio upgrades. However, many deadlines were missed, the project was chronically over-budget and many technical systems didn’t work as designed. In his announcement, de Blasio halted all expenditures, new contracts or major system changes. He also moved the Office of Citywide Emergency Communications under command of the city’s information technology commissioner. Lastly, de Blasio ordered separate reviews by the city’s information technology commissioner, Department of Investigation and City Comptroller. Read the press release and reactions by city officials here. Update: The FDNY fire officers’ union later released a list of CAD addressing errors, including ones made during a Dec. 2013 fatal train derailment. On May 30, 2014 a rally and two city council hearings were held over the mishandling of 911 calls.

In the weeks before a Denver (Colo.) woman was murdered, several police dispatchers complained to supervisors that updated incident information entered by callers into the computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system wasn’t triggering an on-screen alert for radio dispatchers. But despite their complaints, the problem wasn’t fixed, and may have contributed to a huge gap in information for officers responding to a woman’s 911 call that ended in her death. Comm center officials refused to be interviewed by Fox31-TV, but dispatchers anonymously told reporters that they began reporting the problem in early April after a software update. Kristine Kirk dialed 911 for help when her husband became violent on April 12th. Officers were immediately dispatched and enroute. When Kirk said her husband had armed himself with a gun, the calltaker entered the information into CAD. The radio dispatcher, however, didn’t relay the information to officers. Instead, a responding officer noticed the update on his in-car laptop and relayed it to other officers. Kirk’s husband allegedly shot and killed her before officers arrived, and while the calltaker was still on the line with her. Dispatchers say that when they radio dispatching, a small red icon should appear on their screen when information has been added to an incident by any calltaker. That icon stopped appearing after the software update, they say, leaving radio dispatchers unaware that incidents had been updated. It’s not clear—and possibly impossible to determine—if the icon failed to appear for Kirk’s incident. According to Fox31, dispatchers complained 11 times about the glitch in the period from after the software update to just before Kirk’s murder. The complaints continued for two weeks after the murder, with 12 more issues logged. Download (pdf) the complaint log for the details. Update: On June 6, 2014 the radio dispatcher reportedly resigned in the face of being fired by the city in connection with this incident. On June 11, 2014 the police department changed several policies intended to prevent a future similar delayed response.

A survey of dialing 911 from multi-line telephone systems (MLTS) in Texas has found that 73 percent of calls were properly routed to a public safety answering point (PSAP), although fewer calls were completed if the tester dialed 9-1-1 instead of preceding the number with the outbound digit “9.” The 232 test calls performed by member agencies of the state’s Commission on State Emergency Communications (CSEC) also show that schools, hospitals, hotels and businesses varied very little in their dialing success rate. The issue of 911 access from MLTS telephones has been on-going among public safety groups for 25 years, including the accuracy of the ALI delivered by the originating telephone system. But MLTS difficulties were spotlighted recently by the Jan. 2014 murder of Kari Dunn in a Marshall (Tex.) hotel room. Dunn’s 9 year-old daughter repeatedly dialed 911 for help from the hotel room’s telephone, but could not make a connection because the phone system required first dialing “9” to obtain an outside line. The girl was unaware of that dialing restriction, and eventually sought help from other tenants of the hotel, who telephoned for help. Dunn’s father Hank Dunn has begun a “No 9 Needed” campaign to require that MLTS systems allow direct dialing of 911, with or without the “9” access digit. survey results

A Philadelphia police dispatcher has been indicted by a federal grand jury for accepting up to $200 a week in bribes to divert calls for tow trucks to a particular company, and disclosing confidential information. Dorian Parsley, 44, was named in the indictment unsealed last Friday, along with three employees of the Philadelphia towing company K&B Autocraft. Parsley has been a PPD dispatcher since 1998, with full access to state and NCIC criminal justice databases. She was employed in 2011, the U.S. attorney says, when the city instituted a tow rotation system to end a long-standing practice of tow companies chasing accidents and vehicle breakdowns. On several occasions tow company employees engaged in dispute and fights, including a fatal incident. Parsley also signed standard PPD employee agreements not to accept gifts, loans or favors, and not to disclose confidential information. However, the indictment alleges that between Feb. 2011 and Dec. 2013 Parsley secretly texted tow company employees the locations of accidents, police units and vehicle registration information, in exchange for cash bribes totaling $100 to $200 a week. Specifically, a confidential informant inserted into the operation by the FBI said Parsley alerted tow truck drivers of incidents needing a tow truck prior to them being assigned to the tow rotation system. Parsley also provided the informant with confidential vehicle registration information. Parsley is charged with four counts of bribery and two counts of wire fraud. Each count carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. Parsley has been suspended by the police department for 30 days “with intent to dismiss.” Download (pdf) the indictment document.

A Pennsylvania woman has filed a lawsuit against the Cambria County Department of Emergency Services alleging it failed to take action in 2012 when she dialed 911 for help as one of their public safety dispatchers assaulted her. Lisa Flynn says in a federal lawsuit that when she telephoned for help, off-duty dispatcher Charles Pavlosky took the phone from her, talked to the calltaker, and then no police ever responded to help her. The two were in a dating relationship for two years, but Flynn says Pavlosky became violent over a five-month period. Flynn says one night she returned home were Pavlosky was hiding inside and attacked her. “During the struggle,” the lawsuit states, “plaintiff managed to grab her cell phone and dial 9-1-1. Pavloskhy grabbed the phone from plaintiff and spoke with the 9-1-1 operator, instructing them not to send the police.” During the call Flynn was screaming for help, the lawsuit states. As a result of the non-response, Flynn was sexually assaulted and required hospitalization. The county had suspended Pavlosky for two weeks after a incident five months earlier, but didn’t fire him. “It was foreseeable that Plaintiff would be harmed and injured by failing to dispatch police,” the lawsuit says. The lawsuit doesn’t ask for specific damages. Download (pdf) the lawsuit complaint for more details.

Two computer software programming faults were responsible for the state-wide Washington 911 outage in early April, telecom executives have reported, and it’s been revealed that two other states were affected as well. The software issues blocked at least 4,500 calls from reaching public safety answering points (PSAP) in the state for about six hours on April 10th, but didn’t result in any serious consequences, state officials have said. According to a report filed with the state by CenturyLink, the state’s 911 provider, all 911 calls are routed to an Intrado Inc. facility in Colorado for routing to the proper PSAP. When the calls and ANI/ALI data arrive at the facility, they are assigned a unique identification key, which is essential for the routing process. Intrado’s computers periodically recycle the keys after they reach 40 to 60 million. However, in this case, the keys had not been reset since September 2013 and reached their maximum limit. The Intrado computers stopped assigning keys, effectively blocking the handling and routing of 911 through the facility. This situation did set off a computer alarm, but Intrado had set the alarm priority to a relatively low setting. When the keys were exhausted, technicians did not consider the situation as drastic. About 770 calls were routed to Intrado’s Florida facility and were processed normally. However, most calls were blocked. CenturyLink said six to eight PSAPs in North Carolina and 11 in Minnesota also experienced routing problems. There were 127 affected PSAPs in Washington state. State officials say Intrado has enhanced the alarm for this situation, and state officials have asked them to balance call handling between the Colorado and Florida facilities. Read more about the report here.

The law enforcement agencies hunting down a former Los Angeles police officer for murder last year were hampered by poor regional radio communications, deficient command and control of officers, and an overwhelming amount of information from the public. But the 122-page report by the Police Foundation praised the scores of agencies in 10 counties who managed to track down Christopher Dorner despite the many obstacles, and to end his murderous rampage. Dorner shot and killed four people and wounded several others over two weeks in February 2013. He likely shot himself while cornered in a burning house that was surrounded by law enforcement officers near Big Bear in the San Bernardino mountains. In one telling incident, a citizen spotted Dorner driving a pick-up truck and alerted two nearby LAPD officers who were on a break from protecting one of Dorner’s potential victims. However, they were out of radio range, about 32 miles east of LA’s city limits, and couldn’t reach a dispatcher. One of the officer’s had a cellular phone, but it fell from his hand and was damaged. As the officers followed the vehicle, Dorner pulled off the road and fired 29 shots at them, disabling the vehicle. The officers had to use a passerby’s cellular phone to dial 911 for help. [click to continue…]

A two-page letter written by a telephone company executive in 1966 has been discovered, and helps to explain the company’s early technical and financial objections to implementing a universal emergency telephone number. Just two years and 22 days later, those objections faded away and the first 911 call was placed in Haleyville (Ala.) and later spread nationwide. The letter comes from the personal archives of retired Mercer Island Fire Department Capt. Ronald Becker, who also happened to be a stockholder of Pacific Northwest Bell (PNB). Becker and other stockholders were invited by the company to make suggestions for improving telephone service and, being a firefighter, he suggested the idea of a universal emergency number. PNB marketing executive Don Gavin wrote a letter back to Becker thanking him for the idea, but explaining that such a number would not be “economically feasible nor practical.” Gavin pointed out that a three-digit number for fire departments would block off 10,000 telephone numbers in each calling region, and even more numbers if the FBI, civil defense and police departments wanted their own numbers. Gavin also noted a problem in routing the calls to the proper fire station. Despite those problems, Gavin did say that a single fire department number might be practical “sometime in the future.” In fact, on February 16, 1968 the Alabama Telephone Company carried the first 911 call in Haleyville, allowing one-number access to all emergency services. Mr. Becker, now 81, retired as a captain from the MIFD after 26 years of service, including work in the 1970s to focus the department more to EMS operations. Read more details on the history of 911 here and read the letter to Becker after the break. PNB letter