Provo starts reforms for handling calls to 911
Michael Rigert DAILY HERALD
After a 30-year-old Provo man died in October following a misunderstood 911 cell phone call, the city has implemented several reforms aimed at averting any repeats.
Along with the investigation of the death of Scott M. Aston, police say that the Provo 911 center has seen a huge spike in the number of emergency calls made from cell phones.
They say callers need to be aware of the 911 problems that come with the convenience of mobile communication.
"Today more than half of all calls received at our center are from cellular phones," said Capt. David Bolda, a Provo police 911 director.
On Oct. 5, Provo officials associated the unattended death of Scott M. Aston with a call he made by cellular phone four days earlier. Since he was calling from a cell phone, the caller's address did not show up on the dispatcher's screen and despite repeating the address, the street number "915" was mistaken for "950."
Aston told the dispatcher that he had been ill for two weeks, couldn't breathe and "felt that he was dying," said Provo spokeswoman Raylene Ireland on Monday during a special news conference. Aston also gave the name of his second-floor apartment complex.
"Approximately three and a half minutes into the call ... the line goes dead," Ireland said.
Despite paramedics' efforts to locate Aston, including checking adjacent addresses, the man could not be found. Dispatchers checked to see if there was a similar address in Orem or Springville, but one could not be found. The dispatcher who took the call played back the tape to confirm the address and again misheard it as "950" before a battalion chief called off the search.
A woman contacted the Provo 911 communications center four days later concerned about her brother-in-law's health. She said he had been extremely ill and had become sick visiting another country while visiting his new wife. After seeing his car parked out in front of the apartment and hearing his television on two separate occasions, she contacted authorities.
After a Provo police officer located the man's body inside the apartment, a responding paramedic "made the association between the unattended death and the problem that had occurred with the address and not being able to locate the caller," Ireland said.
Though an official autopsy was performed Oct. 6, a medical examiner could not find any injury to Aston or establish a cause of death.
Ireland said once the tie between the two incidents was identified, Provo city launched an internal investigation through the city attorney's office. The investigation's results were then independently verified by the Ogden police department.
"Disciplinary action and corrective action was taken with the individual involved," Ireland said.
She said Provo has been in talks with the deceased man's family, however there is currently no litigation or settlement.
"We convey our feelings of support to the man's widow and family," Provo Mayor Lewis Billings said Monday.
Ireland said neither a battalion chief nor a dispatch supervisor reviewed the audiotapes immediately after failure to locate the man because the dispatcher who took the original call was certain he had received the correct street address.
"I personally listened to the tape and it sounded like '950' to me," Ireland said.
In addition, the city has never experienced a similar incident that resulted in the death of a caller.
However Provo's release Monday of the investigation's findings was focused on what errors resulted in the accidental death and what reforms the city has made since to prevent similar tragedies.
Bolda said a full review was made of the dispatch center's call-taking protocols, protocols for tracing cellular phone calls were revised and updated, and quick reference question cards are now used by all dispatchers. The city also now reviews emergency center calls after the fact to evaluate the effectiveness of responses.
"Tragic and unfortunate situations like this one clearly demonstrate the need for dispatch centers to be able to receive location information from cellular phones similar to that received from land-line telephones," he said.
The call center receives about 40,000 911 calls per year in addition to other nonemergency inquiries. Bolda said the center is staffed at all times with four dispatchers including separate desks for police and fire. Two dispatch supervisors also are on duty 24/7.
Though it will cost millions of dollars, Provo city and state officials are pursuing a high-tech answer that would solve the problem of being unable to locate 911 cell phone callers at the center.
"Too many people just assume if you dial 9-1-1 that they'll know where you are," Bolda said. "In Utah, that's just not the case."
The Utah 911 Commission is currently working toward getting Phase II procedures and infrastructure that would allow dispatchers to locate cell phone callers through Global Positioning Satellite technology or triangulation of cell phone signals. Cities still would have to purchase their own hardware and software, and cell phone companies would have to install Global Positioning Satellite chips in phones, but the potential is there.
In concert with state and federal efforts, Provo is currently accepting bids for the updated software and hardware its 911 center would need to implement Phase II cell phone locator technology. Under a Federal Communications Commission requirement, cell phone companies have until Dec. 31, 2005, to have 95 percent penetration of GPS-enabled cell phones.
Provo city is launching a public education campaign to inform residents about the key information dispatchers need when a 911 call is being made.
Michael Rigert can be reached at 344-2548 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Instruction for 911 wireless callers:
Although some states have the technology to receive the caller's location on wireless calls, many states do not. It's important for consumers to understand the limitations when dialing 9-1-1 from a cellular phone.
Wireless phone calls to 911 are different than those calls made from a house or business phone. 911 operators can't automatically identify your location when you call from a cell phone. Remember to provide the dispatcher with these three important items when calling:
1. Where are you? -- Know your location, address or landmark
2. Who is calling? -- Give your name and cellular number
3. What are you reporting? -- Give the nature of the emergency
Do not hang up, stay on the line and follow the dispatcher's instructions.
If you need to call someone else in your family about the emergency, ask the dispatcher to make that call for you.
If you choose to use a cellular phone as your designated household phone, make sure to teach all household members regarding the 911 system's current inability to determine your location. Small children should know their address and a written copy of the address should be kept near the phone.
The phone should be kept fully charged at all times.
Have an alternate notification plan for times when your cell phone will not work properly or lines could be busy.
Make sure your address information is correct with you cell provider. Whenever changing cellular companies, it's a good idea to inquire regarding the ability for law enforcement to trace your number.
When purchasing a new cellular phone, make sure it is equipped with the federally mandated GPS chip that provides the future capability for automatically identifying the location from which a wireless call is being made. Older phones will never provide this.
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03-08-2005, 04:24 PM #1
Utah-Changes for Provos 911 SystemFront line since 1983 and still going strong
04-18-2005, 04:02 PM #2
Update on case
Provo City Officials are Offering a Settlement to the Family of a Man Who Died in a Mishap
Apr. 18, 2005
City officials in Provo are offering a settlement to the family of a man who died following a 911 mishap.
The Deseret Morning News says neither the city nor Scott Ashton's family would disclose terms of the proposed settlement.
Aston called 911 from his cell phone... and told dispatchers he lived at 915 West... but the ambulance was sent to 950 West.
When rescue workers couldn't find Aston... they left.
Aston was found dead in his apartment a few days laterFront line since 1983 and still going strong
06-29-2005, 03:34 PM #3
Provo keeps tight grip on dispatch reports
Nick Nelson DAILY HERALD
The media has requested them, to no avail. The family of a dead man demands to see them. And now Provo Municipal Councilman Steve Turley wants to have a look. He may only get it under carefully controlled circumstances.
Provo city has kept tight wraps on two reports about the death of Scott Aston, the 30-year-old Provo resident who was found dead in his apartment four
after a dispatcher misheard his
address and sent emergency responders astray.
About a month ago, Turley asked permission from Provo Mayor Lewis Billings to view the reports, stating that he felt it would help him in his role as chairman of the council's Public Safety Committee.
One month later, he's still waiting.
"The public has asked me repeatedly if everything is OK, and I just don't know," Turley said. "That's why I want to see the report."
Billings has agreed to show the reports to the council if the group decides to meet for an executive session -- a meeting that is closed to the public, typically for discussion of personnel or legal matters. But most council members have expressed reluctance to take that step, concerned that it would show bad faith toward the administration and make them liable in the pending litigation against the city. Aston's family filed a notice of claim with Provo city on May 2, giving the city a 60-day notice that it intends to sue. The 60-day waiting period ends Friday, at which time the family can file a lawsuit.
So far, Turley is the only one on the council to actively push for access to the reports.
But Provo spokeswoman Raylene Ireland said the reports either will be made available to the entire council or not at all.
"We're prepared to sit down in an executive session with the whole council with our attorney there -- but not on a one-on-one basis," she said.
The council hasn't yet voted on whether to request the reports, but the majority of council members have expressed reluctance to do so.
"We currently have pending litigation," said Council Chairwoman Cynthia Dayton. "We want to respect the efforts that have already been made by the administration."
Dayton said the more people who view the reports, the greater the likelihood of a leak -- intentional or accidental -- to the public.
Councilman Paul Warner said he wouldn't mind seeing the reports, but he doesn't want to force the issue if other council members prefer not to view the reports.
"It's not a hill to die on, for me," he said.
Councilwoman Midge Johnson said ensuring the city's legal success trumped her curiosity to view the reports.
"My interest in seeing (the reports) wasn't the top priority," she said. "Making sure the city is protected from any suit is the highest priority."
The entire council -- except for Turley -- took the unusual step on Tuesday of signing a joint statement with Billings regarding the city's handling of the Aston case.
"It is the majority opinion of the Municipal Council, along with the administration, that appropriate oversight and scrutiny has been given to this case to protect the interests as well as the safety of the residents of Provo," the statement reads.
Turley said he was not given sufficient time to read the statement and did not sign it.
He told the Daily Herald he suspects no impropriety by the city. He said he simply wants to confirm that what the administration is reporting to the council is accurate.
"I hope to stand side by side with the city leaders and report, after having viewed the documents, that everything is being done appropriately," he said.Front line since 1983 and still going strong
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