City Council Reviews 911 System

The Beverly Hills City Council reviewed the operating efficiency of the city’s Emergency Communications Center (911 dispatch) at its March 16 Study Session meeting, following growing concerns about emergency line wait time. At the meeting, Beverly Hills Police Department’s (BHPD) Captain Elisabeth Albanese detailed how 911 calls are answered and prioritized, summarized the March 4 armed robbery at Il Pastaio from a dispatching perspective and discussed a forthcoming statewide upgrade to the Next Generation 911 network with enhanced capabilities. Albanese also discussed an option called RING (Regional Interagency Next Generation 911), that would allow the Department to utilize regional support during high volume call incidents. The City Council directed staff to proceed with finding another local law enforcement agency to partner with who can assist in high-volume situations until the Next Generation 911 system goes live next year. 

The item was placed on the agenda at the request of Mayor Lester Friedman and Councilmember Lili Bosse in response to concerns from residents who received a busy signal when they dialed 911 on March 4. In the hour following the shooting, dispatchers answered 92 incoming phone calls.

According to Albanese, who oversees the 911 dispatch, the first emergency call related to the robbery was received at 2:09:33 p.m. and answered within seven seconds. “As you can imagine, with a crime like that occurring at two o’clock in the afternoon on a very busy street, the dispatch center received an influx of emergency calls in a very short period of time,” Albanese said. 

During the incident, three male suspects approached a victim seated on the patio of Il Pastaio restaurant when one of the suspects, who was armed with a handgun, pointed it at the victim. The suspects removed the victim’s watch from his wrist while he was seated and then a struggle ensued over the handgun, which ultimately resulted in the discharge of the weapon. 

Following the first 911 call, 24 additional emergency calls were received in the two and a half minutes following, between 2:09:34 p.m. and 2:12:00 p.m. Of those 24, nine calls were answered within the following timeframe: four seconds, seven seconds, seven seconds, 12 seconds, 13 seconds, 55 seconds, 55 seconds, 65 seconds and 76 seconds. The remaining 15 callers disconnected the line before a dispatcher answered. Of those 15 missed calls, 14 were accounted for after the calls were returned by dispatchers. “After that two-and-a-half-minute period, our dispatchers were able to successfully answer all subsequent 911 calls from that point forward,” Albanese said. 

“The CCTV (closed-circuit televisions used for surveillance) captured part of the shooting,” Albanese said. “And we can determine that the shooting itself occurred about 18 seconds after 2:09 p.m. in the afternoon. We received the first 911 call at 2:09 p.m. and 33 seconds, and that call was answered by a dispatcher within seven seconds. The first caller was able to provide us with great detailed information that helps us get pertinent information to quickly dispatch our unit. The dispatcher keyed in the information into our computer aided dispatch (CAD) program, and a second dispatcher who was monitoring the room and heard that there was a shooting incident was already looking at his screen to determine which units we had closest available to respond.”

The Department reported the dispatch of police personnel at 2:10:16 p.m. and fire personnel at 2:10:40 p.m. The first police unit arrived on the scene at 2:11:47 p.m., 91 seconds after dispatch, and the first fire unit arrived at 2:13:32 p.m., 172 seconds after dispatch. 

Beverly Hills operates its own Emergency Communications Center, which is housed in the police station and staffed 24/7. The unit is responsible for the intake of emergency, non-emergency and administrative calls related to police, fire and parking enforcement services. The space is equipped with seven custom designed CAD workstations.

Once a dispatcher answers a call and inputs information such as a phone number and location, a second dispatcher who handles the radio communication sends the appropriate resources to the call. The goal, according to Albanese, is to answer every 911 call within 15 seconds. 

In 2020, the Communications Center processed 184,319 calls. Of those, 154,667 were inbound calls and 29,652 outbound calls. Of those inbound calls, 26,921 were answered 911 calls and 13,342 were answered 10-digit emergency calls. The remaining 114,404 were non-emergency or for administrative services.

“These two things happen simultaneously,” said Albanese. “Sometimes callers get frustrated because they think that the emergency resources are not on the way when the call taker continues to ask more questions. But as soon as the call taker enters the call into the window, second dispatcher is simultaneously sending emergency resources. So, even though the call taker may be on the call longer asking additional questions the emergency resources have already been dispatched.”

However, when there’s an influx of 911 calls, the most critical call is the first. Dispatchers rely on the first caller who reports the emergency to give the police an accurate depiction of where the incident is and what is happening. In high call volume situations, after that first call is taken by the dispatcher, all subsequent calls are quickly vetted to determine if the call is related to the initial emergency or about a secondary, unrelated emergency.

“In the event that there are any unanswered 911 calls, we have some technology that assists the dispatcher to ensure we do not miss a secondary emergency,” Albanese said.  

Next year, through the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (CalOES), the entire state will transition from the current 911 system to an IP-based Next Generation 911 system. The new system improves the location accuracy to ensure emergency calls are properly routed. “One of the added benefits in Next Generation 911 is the ability for agencies to transfer automatically overflowing calls to another agency within the state to help,” Albanese noted. 

While the Next Generation 911 system is already underway, it will not be operational until the beginning of 2022. In the interim, the Department identified a possible short-term solution to make sure that no 911 call goes unanswered, regardless of an influx. Beverly Hills, along with a network of seven other local agencies, have joined the RING program. RING operates essentially as a smaller, regional version of the Next Generation 911 program.

“One of the benefits of the RING program is it allows agencies to work remotely from one of the other seven agencies,” Albanese said. “Meaning that, in theory, in the event of a station evacuation here in Beverly Hills, our dispatchers could relocate to one of our partner agencies, sit down at their console, be able to log in and start answering calls for Beverly Hills from another location.”

She added, “So, although this system was not designed to provide a method to manage an overflow of 911 calls in concept, it could be used for this purpose. We need to do a little more research to see if this will be a viable option to help support 911 calls in the future.”

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