Parish 911 suit settled

Local emergency call system must be upgraded

BOGALUSA The issue of emergency service availability and response has been a matter of concern in Washington Parish for years. Voters approved a monthly emergency telephone service charge in 1988, but failed to approve an additional levy for a centralized 911 communications facility and service in 2003.

And the move to set parish standards for emergency service providers dissolved with the issue of sole provider versus "free enterprise" last year.

Now, thanks to a ruling by the federal attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana, some progress is required.

U. S. Attorney Jim Letten recently announced the settlement of a complaint brought under the Americans with Disabilities Act by a deaf woman who could not get through to her area 911 emergency service on her TDD (Telephone Device for the Deaf also known as a TTY). TDDs traditionally are special keyboards with LCD readouts on which hearing or speech impaired persons conduct their telephonic communication with others.

The complainant, who lives in Washington Parish, alleged that in July, 2003, while experiencing complications from recent surgery, she and a friend, both of whom are deaf, attempted to summon emergency medical services by dialing from the complainant's home telephone using a TDD. Despite several, attempts, no one recognized or in any way responded to their TDD calls, forcing them to contact 911 services via Telephone Relay Service (TRS).

Response to 911 calls in Washington Parish is divided among three Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs), the Washington Parish Sheriff's Office, the Franklinton Police Department and the Bogalusa Police Department. While the U. S Attorney's Office could not precisely determine which of the three PSAPs failed to respond, the investigation revealed that similar problems in training and equipment usage existed among all three of them. Therefore, the complaint and its settlement through improvements and monitoring by the U. S. Attorney's Office, was reached with all three-law enforcement agencies. The settlement also covers the Washington Parish Communication District, which is in charge of equipment procurement for the three PSAPs in the parish, and which will henceforth act as a local oversight for compliance with the terms of the settlement agreement.

Those terms include, among other things:

the procurement of new equipment including back-up TDDs;

comprehensive training of all call takers in the use of TDDs and responding to deaf persons using abbreviations and terminology common to TDD calls (these are very similar to those used in Internet Relay Chat/Instant Messaging, as they were based on the abbreviations employed by TDD users);

implementation of new operating procedures designed to avoid the lack of response which the complainant encountered when she called, 911 on her TDD; and

concerted efforts to reach out to the deaf and speech impaired community to inform them of these improvements to responding to emergency calls from TDDS.

The settlement also involves the payment of $6,000 in damages to the complainant. Assistant US Attorney Glenn K. Schreber handled this case.