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Dispatchers bungled 911 calls

Posted on Jun 22 2010
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"The PSC board of governance continues to have full confidence in the capabilities of PSC and its emergency communications officers," said Calgary fire Chief Bruce Burrell, who chairs the board overseeing the call centre.

Burrell said only 213 calls -- a quarter of one per cent of the 870,530 non-emergency and 911 calls to the centre in 2009 -- resulted in reviews or complaints from the public.
Although the centre routinely does internal reviews of how it handles emergency calls, officials brought in independent investigators to look at four recent incidents made public by the association representing rank-and-file officers. The Calgary Police Association asked for a greater police role in handling calls to the centre, and Mayor Dave Bronconnier asked for the independent review of four 911 calls that were made earlier this month.
Investigators determined a staff member failed to properly verify the location of the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team's downtown office after an RCMP officer was stabbed while speaking with a man in an interview room. The address given by the panicked caller differed from the one on the communication officer's display, resulting in police and paramedics first going to the wrong location.
"Recommendations were made to address the need for standardized initial questions for 911 and police emergency communications officers to ensure phone number and address verification occur," Burrell said. Investigators also determined a staff member wrongly classified an incident involving a man who exposed himself to a child as a non-emergency call rather than a crime in progress. The error meant police arrived two hours later, long after the suspect had fled.
The mistake also resulted in a recommendation that the centre refine and standardize the initial questions asked of 911 callers. In two other cases, investigators found staff at the call centre followed procedures. Investigators looked at whether 911 staffers failed to relay the description of suspects fleeing the scene of a shooting. They determined the information had been sent to police officers via their in-car computers.
There was also concern that a woman who reported an intruder in her home was not given a high enough priority. The woman was subsequently assaulted. However, investigators determined the call was assigned the highest priority and the call centre's actions didn't delay the response time.
Officials have decided that in the coming months, police officers will be in the call centre on the clock to provide advice in high-risk situations. The centre already has an EMS superintendent on-site at all times. The fire department is also looking at having an adviser there 24 hours a day.
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