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An investigative report by the Washington (DC) mayor’s office has revealed that both firefighters and dispatchers made multiple mistakes, leading to a delayed response that ended with the death of a man who suffered a cardiac incident. The 13-page report by Dep. Mayor Paul Quander Jr. says four dispatchers from the district’s Office of Unified Communications have been recommended for discipline, and five firefighters also face discipline. Last month Medric Mills, 77, collapsed at a business across from a district firehouse. Citizens went to the station and notified the firefighters, but for several reasons they did not respond to the incident. When a business owner dialed 911, a OUC calltaker mistakenly entered the location as Rhode Island Avenue NW, when it was actually located in the northeast (NE) quadrant of the city, a difference of almost three miles (street explanation). The 911 caller almost immediately corrected the calltaker, who updated the computer-aided dispatch (CAD) incident with the correct location. However, by then the EMS radio dispatcher had already dispatched the incident to field units, and then failed to notice the location update. A police dispatcher did notice the update and properly dispatched officers to the incident. EMS units arrived 9½ minutes after the 911 call was made. The report recommended several changes in the OUC dispatching procedures, including verifying locations on the radio and requiring a read-back, revising CAD displays of incident updates, and checking the status of responding units on the radio. Download (pdf) the full investigative report here.

Two suburban Indianapolis (Ind.) police departments received telephone calls from people claiming they held hostages or had shot people, triggering a large law enforcement response to residences, but which turned out to be hoaxes. At least one of the separate SWATing incidents was later linked to computer gaming, police said. No one was hurt in either incident, but police pointed out the potential dangers of the police response and vowed to track down whoever made the calls. The first call sent Zionsville police to a house where the caller told a dispatcher he had five hostages, an AK-47 and explosives, and that he wanted $100,000. Arriving officers heard loud reports—later determined to be fireworks—which ramped up the tension. When a dispatcher called the home, the occupants refused to come out, fearing it was the people who had been calling and harassing them. After the residents dialed 911, they came outside and police determined the hoax. In the second incident in the town of Carmel, someone dialed a TTY relay service and relayed that she had killed her husband and son, and shot her daughter with a shotgun. She vowed to shoot any officer who came to the house. Police arrived, evacuated the house and learned of the hoax. Read more about the incidents and listen to the 911 calls here.

Ironically, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)—chaired by a former wireless industry group executive—has proposed rules to improve indoor 911 call accuracy that may be more challenging for cellular companies than the original Phase II rules devised in 1996. The proposals issued Thursday would require wireless carriers to provide improved indoor location accuracy, and add vertical (Z-axis) location data with three-meter accuracy to the ANI/ALI data transmitted to public safety answering points (PSAP). The FCC also urged public safety answering points (PSAP) to improve their technology to handle more accurate locations, and pushed companies for improved technology in the future to locate 911 callers. The commissioners were not unanimous in their approval of the new rules, saying that neither the technology nor the FCC’s timetable for improved accuracy has been fully thought out. But they all acknowledged the trend—up to 80% of 911 callers now use a cellular phone to report emergencies, more homeowners have wireless-only telephone service, and more 911 callers are calling from inside structures that could be 50 stories tall. As for the irony, from 1992 to 2004 FCC chair Tom Wheeler headed the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA), the group that wrestled to implement the original wireless location rules. At the time, the FCC’s rules were an enormous burden for the cellular industry, which was attempting to expand their networks and add subscribers, rather than tackling the difficult issue of pinpointing 911 callers. Download (pdf) the full Notice here. details

A committee of the European Union (EU) has approved a plan to create the infrastructure necessary to support the auto-dialing of the 1-1-2 emergency telephone number by vehicles involved in a collision anywhere in Europe. The decision is based on research that shows that the immediate notification of emergency services could potentially reduce response times by up to 50% in rural areas and up to 40% in urban areas. Several EU countries already have some form of automatic crash notification (ACN) system, but the EU parliament wants to standardize it and make it operate EU-wide. Last December the European Transport Safety Council approved the so-called eCall system, and this week the EU’s internal market committee also approved the plan, which would initially cover new cars and vans. The system would detect a vehicle collision, much as the ACN system proposed for the United States. The call would be routed to a call center, which is now usually the emergency center in the European countries that are already using the technology. The current deadline for automakers is Oct. 2015, but it could be delayed by implementation complexities, the committee noted. There are private systems operating in the U.S., including OnStar, Ford 911 Assist, BMW Assist and Lexus Link. However, there is no initiative to mandate all vehicles be equipped and for public safety answering points (PSAP) to handle ACN telephone calls. Download (pdf) a comprehensive description of the eCall system (with county-by-country studies) here, and the Transport Council’s evaluation of the system here. diagrams

A Florida Highway Patrol trooper who pulled over a Miami police officer for speeding in 2011 has filed a lawsuit claiming 88 officers illegally accessed her driver’s license records, most likely to harass her for making the car stop. The lawsuit has put a spotlight on a federal law that provides a penalty of $2,500 for each illegal access of a person’s driver’s license record, and has implications for routine queries by law enforcement officers or dispatchers. Trooper Donna Watts pulled over Miami police officer Fausto Lopez as he drove 120 mph in a police car and in uniform. Lopez was enroute to an off-duty job authorized by his agency. Watts handcuffed Lopez and cited him, and the incident became the top news in Florida after Lopez was fired. Watts suddenly began receiving threats and intimidating communications from persons that Watts believes are law enforcement officers. She eventually learned some officers were accessing her driver’s license record while on-duty. She retained an attorney, subpoenaed state records and learned that 88 officers had run her driver’s license record. In response to her lawsuit several officers have said they ran Watts’ record to help protect her from the threats. Groups that represent police agencies say the federal law doesn’t cover the situation and the $2,500 penalty is too severe. The U.S. Department of Justice has filed a brief with the court supporting the law. Read more about the lawsuit here, and download (pdf) the original lawsuit complaint here.

After two years of brutal newspaper investigations into how the Los Angeles Fire Department handles emergency medical incidents, the agency announced that it will completely revamp its emergency medical dispatching (EMD) system, essentially dropping a system that’s used world-wide and creating its own set of questioning protocols. According to an announcement yesterday, the department will spend $400,000 and the next year to develop fewer and more streamlined questions to ask 911 callers when they report a medical emergency, leading to a quicker response. The Los Angeles Times newspaper began a series of investigations and stories in 2012 about slow call handling, overly-complex questioning routines and delayed notification of fields units for medical incidents. The department is now using the Medical Priority Dispatch System (MPDS) from Priority Dispatch Inc. The EMS protocols were developed in the 1970s by Dr. Jeff Clawson, and have now been supplemented to include law enforcement and fire questioning protocols. Clawson has earlier defended the EMD system, saying that any problems were created by LAFD dispatchers not following the protocol. Read more about the new EMD system here.

A woman mistakenly arrested on a warrant by Punta Gorda (Fla.) police officers last December has retained an attorney, and is claiming a dispatcher failed to properly confirm the warrant because of a joint relationship the women had with a man. So far, no lawsuit has been filed, but the attorney and Brandy Lowe are demanding answers. After Lowe was detained last year, officers requested a records check. Dispatcher Cindy Proud performed that check and determined there was a outside agency warrant for a person with Lowe’s name. According to a police investigation, Proud was laughing on a logging tape after hearing Lowe’s name on the radio. Officers arrested Lowe on the warrant, despite her explanation that she did not have a warrant. According to Lowe’s attorney, Proud should have requested a photo of the correct Lowe linked to the warrant in order to confirm the identify of the wanted person. After four days in jail, Lowe’s mother came up with her own photo of the woman actually linked to the warrant, and her daughter was released. During a police investigation, Proud admitted laughing and attributed it to believing in “Karma.” The report doesn’t state if Proud was disciplined for the incident. Read more about the situation here and watch a video after the break. video

One of the most comprehensive staffing studies ever conducted of public safety•comm centers has concluded that San Francisco’s Department of Emergency Communications (DEC) is overstaffed by up to 300% at certain times of the day, and that a typical dispatcher is only available for work 58% during a average work-year. The audit by the city’s Office of the Controller also found that calltakers are given too much time between telephone calls, and just one other comparable agency provides a paid one-hour meal break. The controller recommended the DEC more efficiently assign dispatchers, focusing on the busiest 5 p.m. hour for most days, and the least-busy 1 a.m. to 7 a.m. period. They also said the DEC should consider reducing the one-hour meal break, which causes extensive scheduling difficulties—the DEC has 11 different shift starting times. Switching to a 30-minute meal break would increase dispatcher availability by 11%, the study found. The DEC scheduling process was also included in the study, covering shifts, vacations, floating holiday, weekly and daily updates. The process is entirely manual, prepared on paper forms and with Microsoft Word and Excel. The controller recommended the agency begin using scheduling software. The study includes extensive tables and charts that further explain the center’s operation. Download (pdf) the full report here, and also read the many comments that were posted in response to this story and the report. charts

The U.S. Justice Department continues to fight the release of emails stored on Story County (Iowa) computers, under the account of county sheriff Paul Fitzgerald and on the subject of the FirstNet public safety wireless project. Both sides have filed hundreds of pages of documents on the issue, and will argue their positions in-person on March 5th in U.S. District Court in Des Moines. Fitzgerald is a member of the FirstNet board, and from nearly his first day was critical of how the board was internally sharing information. Last year the Politico Web site submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the county for Fitzgerald’s emails. The county stated its intention to release the emails. However, the DOJ objected to the release, claiming Fitzgerald is a “Special Government Employee,” and that the emails are exempt from the FOIA. Releasing the emails could cause “significant harm” if released to the public, the DOJ has claimed in court documents. Story County officials dispute Fitzgerald’s federal employment status, and say the federal government has only made “mere assertions” that irreparable harm would result if the emails are released. The court issued a preliminary injunction to prevent release of the emails, but has scheduled the hearing to consider a permanent injunction. Download (pdf) a 131-page collection of selected court documents here.

LaGrange County (Ind.) sheriff’s dispatcher Heather Lock fielded a 911 call from a woman who had been abducted by a convicted murderer who escaped from state prison. Lock quickly recognized the peril the woman was in, told her to escape the and lock herself in a gas station restroom, and stayed on the line until officers arrived. The escapee, Michael Elliott, had left by then, but was captured the next day. Read another news account of the call here, and listen to part of the call here.

Declaring 911 access as a core value of American life, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has re-stated its goal of quickly implementing text-to-911 service to the United States, saying that if carriers implement it voluntarily, no additional federal regulations would be required. At its meeting yesterday, the FCC also issued a second Report & Order on the matter, seeking comment on its proposal to set a Dec. 31, 2014 deadline for text-to-911 service—or sooner—and how the service can be expanded to other types of Internet services. In Sept. 2011 the commission raised questions about text-to-911 service as part of an R&O on next-generation 911 (NG911) service. Within a year major wireless carriers in the U.S. voluntarily agreed to begin making technical changes to provide the service, all without FCC regulatory requirements. Last year the FCC required wireless carriers to provide a bounce-back message to subscribers where text-to-911 service wasn’t available, but has been taking a hands-off approach since then. read more

An annual survey of states required by Congress has found that fewer states are now diverting the fees they collect for 911 services, and that spending has increased 24% over the past five years, now totaling $2.3 billion. Just four states told the General Accounting Office (GAO) they had used 911 surcharges and fees for non-911 purposes during 2012, the latest reporting period. That’s down from a high of 10 states reported by the survey in 2010. Several states still don’t track how they use 911 funds, and many did not provide answers to some of the latest survey questions. Arkansas was the only state that didn’t respond at all. States collect 911 fees either on a state (19), local (10) or state-local (22) basis, according to the survey, and total fees ranged from $2.0 million in Nevada to $212.8 million in Texas. The survey found that Illinois, Kansas, New York and Rhode Island diverted about $48.4 million of their 911 funds, or two percent of the national total. Most of these funds was used for “emergency first responder” programs, but still unrelated to 911. Among those states, Kansas reported that it investigated 21 expenditures of local funds, and found eight that required reimbursement by cities and towns because they weren’t 911-related. On the other hand, Rhode Island diverted 76% of its $16.5 million in 911 fees to other purposes. The survey now asks questions about NG911 spending, finding that eight states are making progress on the new technology. Kentucky led the list with $1.5 billion committed to creating a state-wide NG911 network. Download (pdf) the full report here.

Three years after the death of a woman in rural Northumberland County (Penn.), a federal judge has recommended her husband’s negligence lawsuit be dismissed because there was no violation of the victim’s constitutional rights. The ruling is subject to an appeal by either party, but could become final within two weeks. In his lawsuit filed in Feb. 2013, John Lamey said his 50 year-old wife Marie collapsed at their home, and he dialed 911. However, his call was routed to an adjacent county, and it took EMS units 18 minutes to arrive. EMS units from Northumberland County would have been closer and arrived sooner, the lawsuit claims. Marie Lamey died later at a hospital, and John Lamey claims the response delay was the proximate cause. The lawsuit notes that Northumberland County had turned on a new computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system one month prior to the incident, and that fire and EMS agencies had reported many addressing errors. “The misinformation was the result of a problem with the mapping software used by the 911 centers,” the lawsuit states. The county filed a response to the lawsuit stating , “does not allege a violation of a right secure by the Constitution and laws of the United (States).” Now U.S. Magistrate Judge Karoline Mehalchick has agreed, saying the Fourtheenth Amendment to the Constitution generally confers “no affirmative right to government aid.” She listed several previous court rulings that uphold the opinion. In Lamey’s lawsuit, he “failed to state a plausible claim of violation.” Download (pdf) the pertinent lawsuit documents here.

The two Washington County (Ore.) dispatchers who handled a critical incident one year ago were affected in different ways—calltaker Jessica Newell later listened to the 82-minute 911 call during a debriefing. But radio dispatcher Nate Roder has never heard the logging tape of his broadcasts coordinating the response from several agencies. The two recalled their work during a recent interview with a news reporter, providing a rare and revealing glimpse into how a critical incident affects dispatchers both during and after an incident. Newell fielded a 911 call from the wife of an off-duty police officer. She said her husband was intoxicated, armed and threatening. The wife had locked herself in a bathroom with her 5 year-old daughter, and spoke to Newell during the entire incident. Roder coordinated the initial response by sheriff’s deputies and later other officers from around the county. It was tense, emotional and eventually successful—the man surrendered, despite several periods of gunfire exchanged between the suspect and officers. For Newell, “Exhaustion hit her after she hung up. She felt relief, then anger,” the reporter wrote. “But that anger mixed with sadness. Her emotions went up and down, changing and evolving.” Her involvement was complicated by her husband’s involvement in the incident—he’s a sheriff’s deputy. “Roder’s stress lifted,” after the incident, the story says. “He focused on the fact that no one was seriously injured. He took a lunch break, returned and started working.” Read the full story here.

A subcommittee of the U.S. Senate heard witnesses describe the current state of wireless 911 location technology, but the senators were divided on whether there should be new regulations to require improved accuracy. An increasing number of 911 calls are wireless, and more are being made indoors, limiting the ability of dispatchers to locate caller. The hearing was called to explore the current situation and possible legislative solutions. The Commerce subcommittee hearing last week included  witnesses from the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO), National Emergency Number Association (NENA), the Cellular Telecommunications & Information Association (CTIA) a tech company Qualcomm, Inc. About 70 percent of the nation’s 911 calls are made using cellular telephones, according to NENA, and a combination of technical and geographic factors limits the delivery of a precise location to public safety answering points (PSAP). In particular, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has no location accuracy requirements for indoor 9-1-1 wireless calls, and an increasing number of these calls are being made, industry officials say. Gigi Smith, president of APCO, told the senators that “rebidding” the 911 system during a wireless call sometimes provides an improved location, but at the cost of time. Christ Guttman-McCabe, executive VP of the CTIA, focused on liability protection, funding and consolidation of centers. Trey Forgety, director of government affairs of NENA, said the Senate should support FCC rules to improve indoor 911 call accuracy. In their statements, the senators appeared divided on whether action is needed. Some spoke of new rules that would force wireless companies to advance location technology. However, others urged a collaborative process, saying new regulations without improved technology would be counterproductive. Watch video (2:42) of the committee hearing here, and download (pdf) the witness testimony here.