Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Editorial in today's Sun

A good model for public accountability

OUR POSITION: The state Legislature and public agencies can learn something from North Port Police Chief Terry Lewis' response to his agency's mistake.

Government agencies make mistakes. Businesses make mistakes. People make mistakes all the time. Everyone knows that.

When they make mistakes and when the mistakes have a public impact, the public can reasonably expect certain things occur: that there is some form of appropriate sanction or penalty, and that steps are taken to ensure the mistakes will not be repeated.

We call that accountability. We can't prevent mistakes, but we can put new procedures or systems in place that make the same mistakes less likely in the future. That's what happens, ideally, after a plane crash, when the brakes on automobiles don't work, after banks using unsound financial practices shake the economy or someone tampers with a bottle of Tylenol.

The critical points are to acknowledge the error, deal with the immediate impacts and take steps to prevent a repeat. It sounds pretty straightforward, but it's amazing how difficult that process can be in practice.

Public agencies looking for a good model of accountability in response to mistakes should pay attention to recent actions taken by North Port Police Chief Terry Lewis following a recent botched 911 emergency call. Lewis got it right.

On the night of Dec. 11 last year, a call came into the North Port police station alerting the dispatcher to a car off the road with a body nearby at a semi-isolated spot. The callers couldn't remember the exact name of the street, but got something close to it.

Rather than telling the caller to wait for an officer at the store where they had made the call, the dispatcher tried to locate a street with a similar name. Unable to find it, she simply gave up. No officer was contacted.

Some 16 hours later, another call came in and the body was located. The driver was dead, but no one knew if his life could have been saved if the police response had come quicker.

Lewis immediately took responsibility for the mistake -- caused by the dispatcher, not the 911 system. He apologized. He took time to review the incident and eventually fired the dispatcher, who is now appealing her dismissal.

Although he defended his call center system -- noting operators received far more training than is required by the state -- Lewis asked outside agencies from Lee and Marion counties to review the operations. Just over a week ago, they recommended another course be added to the basic training and a more-structured "quality assurance" system be set up to monitor ongoing operations. Lewis said these steps would be taken.

Just after the incident, Lewis acknowledged "the damage (it had) done to citizen's confidence in the department." By taking the right steps, he is restoring that confidence. He got it right.

That model of "what to do" is one we hope Florida legislators follow as they review bills sponsored by state Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, and Rep. Ken Roberson, R-Port Charlotte, that would improve emergency 911 call training throughout the state. Lawmakers sidestepped the issue last session. They need to get it right this year.

Mistakes happen. It's relatively easy to acknowledge and apologize for them. In the end, though, what matters most is that reasonable, intelligent, appropriate steps are taken to make sure the same mistakes don't happen again.

That's what accountability is all about.


Sunday, February 21, 2010

Dear Denise

It was a crazy week last week. All in all it was a very GOOD week. Dad and I drove to Tallahassee with Dave G Monday evening after work. Tuesday AM I spoke in front of a House committee. As you can imagine it was very emotional for me talking about you and how losing you has changed our lives (mostly Nathan, Noah and Adam's) forever. There is not a moment that I stop thinking of you. The House committee was very supportive and professional. Some members had funding concerns. I find that unbelievable. As far as we are concerned this is not a funding issue but a priority issue. They are already spending money for training anyway! A couple house members shot down the opposition quite effectively. I would never have been able to get thru it, if your spirit had not been with me giving me courage and strength.

That's what I admired most about you while you were alive. Your courage and strength should be an inspiration to women everywhere. Sadly, I did not realize just how courageous and strong you were while you were alive. I will never forgive myself for not having gotten to know you better. I knew you were shy and therefore I tried not to force you into talking unless you wanted to. I do remember that whenever you did have something to say it was always important. I also remember your grace. I never heard you say a negative thing about anyone. But, I honestly thought we would have years and years together of holidays and baseball games and that our bond would be forged through time. It breaks my heart we did not get to know each other better.

The house passed the bill through committee "unaminously". I cried tears of relief. It was so heartwarming. Someone said I should feel proud. But I do not. Our family would not be doing all the things we have been doing if we had not lost you. How could I feel pride in losing you? It is an odd feeling.

Coming home on Tuesday we stopped in Brandon for something to eat. Oh my gosh. Remember the day we went shopping? People do not realize we did not get to go shopping because of shortage of money. We only ever went shopping twice. The day in Ellenton and the day in Brandon. I thought we had years ahead for shopping and lunching. So I cried some more.

Anyhow, Nathan spoke in front of the Senate committee on Thursday. We watched it on TV. You would be proud of him, Denise. You were his soulmate. He's trying to move on and be the best dad he can. And Thursday night Dad and I got to go to Noah's T Ball practice. Oh my gosh. He reminds me so much of you. His smiles, his eyes, his mannerisms, his silliness.... He is silly and I remember how you used to smile and be downright silly. Full of fun. I just watch him and think of you. Friday AM I took the boys to school and Noah talked a mile a minute about you. He started with "My mommy is looking down on me. She sees everything I do." So, I let him chat and we chatted the whole way. Sadly, Adam was not a part of the conversation. I tried to lure him into it but he has no memories at all. People say how sad it is that you will not be here to see them grow. But I tell them you are here. I'm just profoundly heartbroken that they will not be able to ever experience your physical presence again. Your hugs and your smile.

I dreamt about you for the first time a couple of weeks ago. I have nightmares quite often and they are violent. I will not share them here. I have never dreamt about you though. So, the other night I had a very brief dream of you. You were standing near me and I asked if I could hug you one more time. We hugged and then I woke up. I wish I could hold on to that dream forever. I think of it everyday and it gets me through.

I love you, babydoll. And I miss you desperately.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Testimony of Assemblyman David Koon from New York

even after 17 years the fight goes on...

When will funding never be an issue? It seems to be a perennial issue.

God bless him and his family.

Good morning. My name is David Koon and I represent the eastern portion of Monroe County in Western New York in the New York State Assembly. I truly appreciate the opportunity to testify here this morning before the Subcommittee on Communications. I would like to begin by thanking the FCC and Congress for taking the initiative to encourage development and
deployment of wireless Enhanced 911. Both the FCC and Congress recognized early that this was an important public safety issue and I am grateful for the hard work and leadership shown during this evolving process of improving and implementing wireless E911.

The issue of wireless E911 service has deep personal meaning for me. In 1993, our daughter was abducted and murdered in Rochester, New York. We had installed a wireless telephone in her car in the event of an emergency so that Jennifer could call 911 for help. Somehow Jennie managed to dial 911 for help from her car phone, however, the 911 dispatcher was unable to
locate her. The dispatcher listened helplessly to the last twenty minutes of Jennie’s life. It is this personal family tragedy that prompted my involvement in public service – to help make New York a safer place. I am deeply grateful to have the opportunity to share my story with this committee in the hope that the implementation of E911 technology in EVERY state will make it possible to determine the location of a person making a wireless 911 call.

It has been recognized in New York State that there is a problem with the funding of our Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs). The state collects a monthly wireless 911 surcharge that could be used for the upgrading of the locator technology. However, New York State and many other states are not using this surcharge to provide funding for the PSAPs. This country faces a difficult public safety problem because the reality of wireless E911 is that each state is different in the advancement of the cellular technology to locate a 911 caller.

With the guidance and leadership of Speaker Sheldon Silver, Assemblymembers Robert Sweeney, Roann Destito, and Thomas DiNapoli and many other of my colleagues in the New York State Assembly, I have recently introduced a new piece of legislation that will change how New York State funds the deployment of wireless E911 technology. A copy of this bill
(A.3911), which passed the Assembly on February 24, 2003, is attached to my written testimony for your reference.

After many attempts to fund a successful E911 program in the state of New York, I think that we have finally found a solution modeled after Virginia’s successful program. This legislation creates the Wireless 911 Local Incentive Funding Enhancement (LIFE) Program in order to provide localities with funding to expedite the development of enhanced wireless 911 service. Wireless 911 LIFE will encourage the development of enhanced wireless 911 services by providing funding to local wireless emergency dispatch centers or PSAPs. In order to be eligible, local PSAPs would have to submit a written plan, including a financial plan and implementation timetables, to the State 911 Board for approval. Upon approval, local PSAPs would be eligible for funding related to equipment, software, and hardware necessary to provide enhanced wireless 911 service. Bonds will be issued by the Dormitory Authority to fund the costs associated with the program. The debt service on these bonds would be paid from the existing New York State wireless 911 surcharge. This program will give vital technology dollars to municipalities NOW – and avoid the postponement of this important safety issue any further.

My current legislation is an extension of legislation passed in 2002 that enacted the Local Enhanced Wireless 911 program. This program provided $20 million from the existing cellular surcharge to help localities fund costs associated with the provision of enhanced wireless 911 service. Ten million dollars in funding was made available to reimburse “eligible wireless 911
service costs”, which include installation and maintenance of equipment, hardware, and software designed to meet the FCC enhanced wireless guidelines. Further, ten million dollars in funding was made available to purchase additional equipment. The program is administered by a 13-member board organized within the Department of State. The 2002 legislation
reimburses localities for incurred expenses. The current legislation will allow localities to receive funds prospectively - ensuring quicker access to costly technology. As I mentioned before, this legislation was modeled after a program in Virginia that provides funding to PSAPs in a similar manner and has found that it greatly expedited the availability of wireless
E911 service. At present, Virginia has well over fifty percent of the state in compliance with the Phase I requirements and expects to fully comply with the Phase II requirements in the immediate future. Every state should demand the same technology.

It is important to remember that successful implementation of wireless E911 nationwide requires the cooperation of all parties involved – local, state, and federal governments, law enforcement agencies, carriers, and manufacturers. It is also important for the public to be better informed and educated about the process. These hearings are an important step
towards both increasing participation of the public in this process and getting input from different organizations. Again, thank you for the opportunity to speak before this committee and I look forward to answering any questions that you may have.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Another devastating tragedy, things just have to change....

Hazelwood man dies after 10 calls to 911 over two days

Wednesday, February 17, 2010
By Sadie Gurman, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

In his first call to 911, Curtis Mitchell sounded calm, explaining to dispatchers that his "entire stomach [was] in pain."

By the time his longtime girlfriend made a 10th call nearly 30 hours later, she was frantic. He wasn't breathing. He was cold to the touch.

"Oh God, oh God," Sharon Edge sobbed to dispatchers. "I've been trying to get an ambulance over here for three days."

Paramedics arrived at their Hazelwood home as Ms. Edge tried to resuscitate the 50-year-old, but it was too late.

"I sat up here with him, watching him die," Ms. Edge said Tuesday, after city officials apologized to her and pledged immediate changes in emergency response after Mr. Mitchell's death on Feb. 7. "They didn't do their jobs like they were supposed to."

Snow-covered roads, poor communication and a 911 center deluged with more than double the average number of calls during last week's crippling snowstorms combined to cause Mr. Mitchell's long wait, city officials said.

Ambulances were dispatched three times on Saturday, Feb. 6, to the couple's home in the 5100 block of narrow Chaplain Way, but couldn't get there because of the snow. Paramedics twice asked whether Mr. Mitchell could walk to an intersection, even after he told them that he could not because he was in too much pain.

Emergency vehicles were within blocks of his home three times -- once so close Ms. Edge could see the ambulance lights from her porch -- but did not make contact with him. They finally reached the home on Sunday morning, Feb. 7, but Mr. Mitchell was already dead.

"We should have gotten there," Public Safety Director Michael Huss said. "It's that simple."

Complicating matters, communication problems meant that each call was seen as an individual request for help. Information gained on previous calls was not passed down during the next request, said Ron Roth, medical director for the city's public safety department and Allegheny County's emergency operations center.

"As a result, we made the same request over and over," he said.

Dispatchers sent the first ambulance to Mr. Mitchell's home just after 2 a.m. on Feb. 6, after he called complaining of abdominal pain, according to dispatch records. The call was graded E-2, or less pressing, as his symptoms were deemed not life-threatening. He called 911 again two hours later, asking what the hold-up was.

The call-taker told him medics were on their way, but the ambulance got stuck in the snow near the Elizabeth Street Bridge. The call was canceled after paramedics learned that Mr. Mitchell was in too much pain to walk out to them. Mr. Mitchell said he would try again later.

A second request for help was made about an hour after the first was canceled, though medics were not aware that an ambulance had gotten stuck while en route the house earlier. They, too, became stuck, according to Dr. Roth's report.

"If he wants a ride to the hospital, he is just going to have to come down to the truck," a medic told the dispatcher. Mr. Mitchell said he would try to walk to the truck, but later told them he couldn't make it across the bridge. The second call was canceled.

The third call for an ambulance came nearly five hours later, at 11:17 a.m. Saturday. Mr. Mitchell reported similar abdominal pain, and officials identified "no priority symptoms," and the call was held because of limited availability, Dr. Roth wrote in his report.

"At this point in time, higher priority calls are being held, there are over 30 calls in the pending queue," he wrote.

At about 8:15 p.m. Saturday, nine hours later, the call was upgraded to E-1, or higher priority, because Ms. Edge, who had begun making the calls on Mr. Mitchell's behalf, told call-takers he was short of breath and that they'd been waiting all day.

Less than an hour later, Ms. Edge called again to tell dispatchers that her boyfriend took sleeping and pain pills and she "could not get him up."

A doctor who called Ms. Edge back was "convinced he took his prescribed medications and went to sleep," Dr. Roth said, and the call was canceled.

In the final call, about 8 a.m. Sunday, she screamed for help. The call was graded E-0 -- a top priority. But when paramedics arrived, Mr. Mitchell had already died.

The cause of death is pending toxicology test results, the medical examiner's office said. Dr. Roth wrote that Mr. Mitchell had a history of pancreatitis, though his reported symptoms were not exclusive to that disease.

"It's unacceptable what happened," Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said. "It needs to change. We're talking about somebody who lost their life, and it's no small matter."

The city planned today to start dispatching firefighters as first responders on medical calls of the two highest grades of severity, and on calls of the third highest level that remained unanswered for more than 30 minutes. Firefighters are currently only called as first responders to the most severe incidents.

Sadie Gurman: sgurman@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1878.

Read more: http://www.postgazette.com/pg/10048/1036403-53.stm#ixzz0fqg3GOKD

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Denise Amber Lee Act Clears Comittee

from Capitol News Service:

Denise Amber Lee Act Clears Committee

February 16th, 2010 by Mike Vasilinda

9-1-1 Emergency operators will have to undergo increased training under legislation approved by a State House Committee this morning in Tallahassee. The legislation was inspired by the preventable death, as Mike Vasilinda tells us, of Denise Amber Lee, a Sarasota woman kidnapped and murdered in 2008.

The young mother was abducted in January 2008. Surprisingly she was able to use her kidnapper’s cell phone to call 911.

A second 9-1-1 call came from a motorist who saw Denise stressed out in the back of a car.

The hitch came when the calls were not relayed to police by an untrained operator. By some accounts, the kidnapper drove past at least three police cars who could have saved Denise.

Denise’s mother-in-law teared as a House committee debated a bill to require training. Police and sheriffs question the cost of additional training. So do some lawmakers.

“I want to be assured that there is no cost, that it is financially neutral,” Rep. Bill Proctor (R-St. Augustine) said.

Sponsors say what is not acceptable is calling 9-1-1 and getting a different response, depending on what part of the state you’re calling from.

15 other states already have similar laws on the books.

“Florida is certainly lagging behind in that regard,” Richard Pinsky with the Emergency Operators Association.

And there were more tears when the bill passed.

“This is about saving future lives and we just don’t want this to happen to anybody else,” Peggy Lee, Denise Amber Lee’s mother-in-law said.

“When you hear about the costs, you know, we all know what the cost is, it’s a lost life,” Mark Lee said.

Michael King has been sentenced to death in the case.

A Senate Committee hears similar legislation Thursday….but in tight budget times, passage is not a sure thing.

link: http://www.flanews.com/?p=8644

also from NBC2: http://www.nbc-2.com/Global/story.asp?S=11994018

another: http://vodpod.com/watch/3063099-denise-lee-act-clears-committee

Lee's 911 bill sparks opposition in today Charlotte Sun

Group: 50-cent fee is too small of a funding source

HB 355 Public Safety Telecommunicators
King Convicted
"I would have let you go but ..." jurors heard Michael King tell his victim, Denise Amber Lee, in a 911 call Denise secretly made that convinced them to convict him of her murder.

But it was another 911 call by an eyewitness who saw Denise struggling in the back seat of King's Camaro -- in which help was never sent -- that led her family and friends to start a foundation to correct flaws in the 911 system.

Today, Mark and Peggy Lee, parents of Denise's widower, Nathan Lee, both members of the Denise Amber Lee Foundation, plan on attending the state House health-care hearing in Tallahassee, where a bill promoting universal training for 911 call takers and dispatchers will be introduced. Peggy plans to speak at the hearing. On Thursday, Denise's father, Rick Goff, a longtime Charlotte County sheriff's sergeant, and Nathan plan on attending the hearing when the bill is heard in the Senate.

Denise was kidnapped from her North Port home in January 2008. After five 911 calls from family, witnesses and Denise herself regarding her whereabouts, no one could find the missing 21-year-old mother of two. Her remains were discovered near a wooded area along Toledo Blade Boulevard -- the same road eyewitness Jane Kowalski told a Charlotte County sheriff's 911 call taker she last saw King's Camaro. The call taker never sent deputies.

The nine-page House Bill 355 -- known as "Electronic 911" or E911 -- introduced by state Rep. Ken Roberson, R-Port Charlotte -- would require 911 call takers and dispatchers to take mandatory public safety telecommunications training and pass an examination administered by the state Department of Health with competency and proficiency testing.

Funding for the training would come from 50 cents that's already paid by telephone customers. Currently, the $50 million in the Public Safety Trust Fund generated from the counties' 911 charge on each telephone bill is used to pay for police training and equipment, Roberson said. Funding guidelines don't specify the money be used for 911 training.

The bill calls for universal training -- from 208 hours of voluntary training that's in place now to 232 mandatory hours -- with 20 additional hours of training for the biennial renewal requirement. The CCSO maintains it already exceeds voluntary training hours.

North Port City Commission Chair David Garofalo, a Lee Foundation board member, also plans to speak at the hearing today.

"There might be some opposition," Garofalo said Monday, alluding to a letter sent to the Association of Public Safety Communication Officials from Doug Christ, president of the Florida Chapter of National Emergency Number Association opposing the bill.

According to Christ's letter, NENA clearly "supports standardized training and certification of 911 call-taking personnel," but the 50-cent fee is simply too small of a funding source.

"There are no more rabbits we can pull out of the hat regarding how we can stretch the 911 fees," he wrote. "There has also been concern expressed regarding the apparent requirement of retraining telecommunicators who may have already gone through hundreds of hours of expensive training prior to the legislation taking effect."

However, state Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, said she doesn't buy the arguments.

"They are not happy because they will have to pay overtime for the training," she said. "It's bogus. I've had enough of this -- safety can't wait.

"How many more times do we want to be on television shows like '20/20' showing the horrible mistakes that have been made in our 911 system? A North Port dispatcher left a man lying in the middle of the street for 18 hours because she didn't send help. She clearly didn't have the proper training," Detert said, referring to Brian Wood, who in December had crashed his truck in a remote area of North Port Estates. A teenager saw Wood and called 911, but could not remember the name of the street he was on. The dispatched failed to send help, and no police responded until a second 911 call was made the next evening.

Christ said Monday that NENA wants to "wait a year" and study the issue and how to fund it. He is supporting a substitution bill initiated in Pinellas County delaying implementation for a year.

"We'd like to see a task force established," Christ said. "We want a true statewide cost analysis. Our research and experience indicates that current 911 fees simply cannot absorb the cost of mandatory training. No one is giving us how much this will cost. I hear it could be $2 million just in Pinellas alone. Our goal is to ensure this becomes a successful piece of legislation as opposed to a costly 'feel good' bill."

Detert disagreed, saying there was no time to "rip apart" the bill.

"It's time to close the book on the bill," she said, adding she met Monday with lobbyists for the Police Chiefs Association, Sheriffs Association, Florida League of Cities and Florida Department of Law Enforcement regarding the bill.

"If they don't like it, they are going to have to get used to it and learn to like it," she said.

Garofalo said 911 funds should be spent for training telecommunication employees.

"Once the money is spent on training, it's up to the employee to pay for recertification," he said. "As far as making employees who have already had the training get retrained, it's not a bad idea. There have been some longtime operators who made mistakes that created liabilities for departments."

Nathan has said he wants to see positive changes made so his wife didn't die in vain. If the bill passes, it would take effect in July.

E-mail: eallen@sun-herald.com


North Port Community News Editor

Monday, February 15, 2010

Florida NENA

Unbelievable. We're on our way up to Tallahassee as I type to speak in front of the Florida House committee to urge them to pass HB355. Nathan and Rick will be there on Thursday to speak to the Senate Committee to urge them to pass SB742. Both bills are identical and both bills call for mandatory certification and training for all 9-1-1 call takers in the state of Florida.

Now, FL NENA opposes it. Why? Money. At least that's what they say. There are not enough funds. That's ridiculous! They oughta find the funds. It should not take rocket science and more studies. Get someone in there smart enough to find it. We're paying for it on our cell phone bills already. Where is that money going?

How many more people have to die due to call taker error???? They are the first link in the chain of our public safety. How can you put a price on Denise's life? or Olidia Kerr Day's life? or Brian Woods life? or Jennifer Johnson's life? and they are just a few in the past two years that we've HEARD about. How many have we not heard about that were covered up?

It's also odd considering we're working with and have the support of national NENA.... Unfriggin' believable.

These bills will not only help protect our citizens but they will help protect our first responders. The Florida Fraternal of Police support the bill! They agree wholeheartedly that something must be done.

But FL NENA apparently wants to spend the money elsewhere. That's just unconscionable IMO. If the call taker does not get the call right then the fireman may not make it to the fire, the EMT may not make it to the medical emergency, and the police may not be able to prevent an abduction about to be murder (as in Denise's case) in progress.

And more people like Brian Wood from North Port may be left lying beside the road "barely alive" and "soon to be dead" and then finally "dead" for 18 hours!