Why the YDR wanted addresses with county time-response logs

People in York County lost their right to effectively assess emergency
time response when a county judge ruled Thursday that addresses, cross
streets or block addresses are not part of the county’s time-response
log
— data that is made public by the state’s new right-to-know law.

  
 Some people commenting on the story applauded the judge’s decision,
for various reasons. Here are some, including our response:

  •  ’I
    can read can you
    ‘ wrote, “I don’t believe your intent was to show that
    ‘hopefully emergency responders were doing a great job.’ It should
    sound like ‘how can we trash someone over something whenever we get the
    chance.’”  
    • When managing editor Randy Parker said what’s
      quoted above (the “hopefully” part), he meant that the best possible
      outcome would be that York County’s emergency services are responding
      in a timely manner, meeting local, state or national standards, and
      serving the public effectively. In other words, nobody hopes that the
      county’s first responders are failing, even occasionally. But in order
      to find out, you need response times and locations.
  • Peter‘ wrote, “But how will YDR be able to list the victims’ names and addresses, so
    that EVERYBODY will know who they are, AND where they live??”
    • We
      wouldn’t have listed everyone’s name and address. There would be no
      point in doing so. The reason we asked for either addresses, cross
      streets or block numbers was so that, when you look at how long it took
      a fire truck to get from the station to the scene, you would have a way
      to measure that response.
  • Harold Knows‘ wrote, “we all know that the information is only wanted for use in other stories and to invade others’ privacy.”
    • We
      wanted the information to audit emergency time response in York County,
      to be one voice in assessing how quickly first responders arrive at
      scenes. First responders, obviously, do a vital job. The county’s time
      response log information, had it included geographical locations of
      some kind, would have allowed an independent assessment.

I think it’s important to note a few things:

  • The
    county agrees that addresses or geographical locations are needed to
    effectively assess response time. County lawyer Michael Flannelly, in
    his brief in this case, wrote, “…precise addresses would be the best
    indicator of the responsiveness of the 911 Department and
    police/fire/emergency responders.”
  • The legislator who
    sponsored the new Right-to-Know Law intended addresses or geographic
    locators to be part of time-response logs. Erik Arneson, community and
    policy director for Sen. Dominic Pileggi, has said, “…
    Sen. Pileggi authored the bill and if anyone had asked him, he would
    have been very clear. Unfortunately, there is no clear definition of
    time response logs so the subject is open to interpretation.

    “But our absolute clear intent . . . is that some sort of useful
    identifier should be part of the time response log.”

  • The
    county’s concern that releasing addresses as part of time-response logs
    would or could endanger crime victims almost certainly would not come
    into play in an audit of response times. In fact, the YDR asked the
    county if it would release block addresses or cross streets — a
    compromise that would allow an assessment of response times while
    resolving the county’s privacy concerns — but the county refused.
  • Can
    a valid response-time audit can be done if you don’t know where the
    units were headed? It boils down to the difference between

            “Fire Company A was dispatched at 9:30 p.m. and arrived on scene at 9:40 p.m.”
           
            and
   
       
           “Fire Company A was dispatched from 100 Main Street at 9:30
p.m. and arrived at the 500 block of Main Street at 9:40
p.m.”
      
            If you want to know whether Fire Company A was fast or
slow to respond, the first      description wouldn’t help;
the second would.

        I welcome your comments.

About Scott Blanchard

Sunday editor at the York (Pa.) Daily Record/Sunday News. Follow me on Twitter and Google+.
This entry was posted in Pennsylvania Right to Know, Scott Blanchard. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Why the YDR wanted addresses with county time-response logs

  1. Kenny Spann says:

    If the aim was to learn how long it takes for public safety agencies to respond, the address would be relevant but it becomes irrelevant when you dont know where the responder begins responding from. There are also too many variables built in to the equation as well to get accurate results. Was the responder using emergency lights and siren? what routes did they use? what were the traffic conditions and were they the norm? Did the information being dispatched cause a continued need for a speedy response? Response times will always look as if they were too long given the endless variables inherent to public safety response. Those variables I described above are only a few but should help get your wheels turning about the many others that would go on and on. There are also mistakes made at times due to human error which has to be expected but dealt with through discipline or training. I think what Ive said helps answer the question about response times to the public but also shows what a futile mission YDR is on to “hold the government accountable” by needing addresses, because even with the addresses, they still cant draw an accurate conclusion with all the variables. I would think that they would already know this so it makes us wonder why else would you want to know the address of where a crime was committed or where EMS responded to a suicide or where the FD went to for a fire. I think it would make for some juicy information on the personal privacy of the known occupants of those addresses since you all are scanning pd, ems and fire calls, you should also know the names of the people involved.

  2. Kenny,
    Those are excellent comments & thoughts. What you’ve done there is basically started to ask the questions we would ask as part of the reporting process. No one could look at a response time — even with the address — and say: That was too long; the responder failed. You would have to start asking all those questions, which all fall under the umbrella of, “What happened here? Why is it like this?”
    And then you would report what you found — the data, the reasons behind it, what the people involved said about it, and so on.
    By doing that — by looking into the issue, discovering things, asking questions and getting answers — you hold people accountable. Your questions and the issues you raised are precisely the kinds of things that would need to be talked about in any assessment of emergency time response.
    No matter who would do an audit, whether it be a government agency, a newspaper or some other entity, someone would argue that they did not, as you said, “draw an accurate conclusion with all the variables.” But the mission, in my opinion, is still very much worthwhile.

  3. kenny Spann says:

    I agree that it would be nice to know our public safety personnel are responding to their destinations promptly but I do not believe it can be done accurately. Yes you could audit a particular incident by looking at it under a microscope after the fact and get a good measure of that incident. Certainly that cannot be done with all incidents for obvious reasons. The one method used in some police agencies is the officer writes down the time HE received the call, the time he arrives at the scene and the time he left. Those figures are collected and plugged in together at the end of a year and you get an average response time. I dont think that is very accurate either, for many reasons. I work in law enforcement and I respect that citizens deserve to know that we are providing quality service and this is an issue that would interest them. I know that I and my fellow employees will respond as quickly and prudently as they can in emergencies. In fact, sometimes we’re criticized for being over anxious in responding. We’re also criticized for responding too slowly to things that in the person’s mind that is waiting for us, seems to be an emergency but isn’t. Often times those types of non-emergencies have to be pended so that another incident with higher priority can be tended to first. Sometimes we handle an incident by phone and call right away giving that call response a 0. Speaking generally about police, fire and ems and their response times, consideration should also be given to the fact that some departments are understaffed given their ratio to their population they serve. The fact that many fire departments rely on volunteers, who by the way deserve much more adulation and praise than they receive, jump out of bed in the middle of the night and drive as fast as they can, keeping in mind that they do not have the legal authority to use a siren. They can use a blue light but they must obey the speed limit and cannot pass cars unless those cars yield to them, which pathetically many people don’t. Our taxes are high enough and only until citizens get tired of crime, houses burning down and medical patients waiting unexpectedly long for an ambulance will they be willing to pay more. Surely if our elected officials would spend the money on these basic services instead of the many unnecessary things that they do, increases wouldn’t be needed.

  4. Kenny Spann says:

    I agree that it would be nice to know our public safety personnel are responding to their destinations promptly but I do not believe it can be done accurately. Yes you could audit a particular incident by looking at it under a microscope after the fact and get a good measure of that incident. Certainly that cannot be done with all incidents for obvious reasons. The one method used in some police agencies is the officer writes down the time HE received the call, the time he arrives at the scene and the time he left. Those figures are collected and plugged in together at the end of a year and you get an average response time. I dont think that is very accurate either, for many reasons. I work in law enforcement and I respect that citizens deserve to know that we are providing quality service and this is an issue that would interest them. I know that I and my fellow employees will respond as quickly and prudently as they can in emergencies. In fact, sometimes we’re criticized for being over anxious in responding. We’re also criticized for responding too slowly to things that in the person’s mind that is waiting for us, seems to be an emergency but isn’t. Often times those types of non-emergencies have to be pended so that another incident with higher priority can be tended to first. Sometimes we handle an incident by phone and call right away giving that call response a 0. Speaking generally about police, fire and ems and their response times, consideration should also be given to the fact that some departments are understaffed given their ratio to their population they serve. The fact that many fire departments rely on volunteers, who by the way deserve much more adulation and praise than they receive, jump out of bed in the middle of the night and drive as fast as they can, keeping in mind that they do not have the legal authority to use a siren. They can use a blue light but they must obey the speed limit and cannot pass cars unless those cars yield to them, which pathetically many people don’t. Our taxes are high enough and only until citizens get tired of crime, houses burning down and medical patients waiting unexpectedly long for an ambulance will they be willing to pay more. Surely if our elected officials would spend the money on these basic services instead of the many unnecessary things that they do, increases wouldn’t be needed.

  5. Kenny Spann says:

    sorry for the double hit there

  6. Great insight and much appreciated.

  7. Sam says:

    “We wanted the information to audit emergency time response in York County, to be one voice in assessing how quickly first responders arrive at scenes. First responders, obviously, do a vital job. The county’s time response log information, had it included geographical locations of some kind, would have allowed an independent assessment.”
    The above quote captures the exact problem with YDR editors fighting so vehemently to get the information they want on these emergency response logs. Who is the editorial staff of YDR to be the “one voice” to “assess” the effectiveness of anything having to do with emergency responders? In the case of police departments, we (the citizens) employ professional police managers overseen by professional municipal managers to set the standards for timely response to calls for service. They are the ones who are trained and educated to assess, oversee, administer, and remedy timely response. YDR editors are not qualified to make any such assessment. I surmise their motives are suspect, and they seek only to gather this data to put their own self-serving twist on it. They will spin it in a way to sling mud at the emergency service agencies of their choosing. Predictably, the editors will attack agencies whose views differ from the BS they try to force feed the general public. This has been proven in the recent past as the editors bash municipalities that have (intelligently) shunned MetroYork/YorkCounts. Maybe YDR has a problem with certain privately owned EMS providers. Are these providers the next ones to catch criticism, maybe just because of the person or persons who own or manage them? So with more data to evaluate, it makes for more information to misrepresent to further advance their ill-devised agenda.
    The previous posts by Kenny Spann identify problems with YDR’s proposed method to study response times. The information needed to truly assess police response time is not available to anyone at all, simply because it does not exist. Kenny already says why it does not exist, so I’ll not bother repeating. Anything YDR does to study police response time is wrong before it even starts.
    Furthermore, the YDR editor eludes to what some of the addresses would be used for (“asking questions and getting answers”): an anomaly (as defined by the fine editors at YDR) is identified in the response log. A team of reporters decides to further investigate to do an expose, and shows up at a crime victim’s home to ask a bunch of questions about how long it took the police to get to their house (after all, reporters now have the exact address). Do I as a crime victim want to be hassled by a reporter after being the victim of a crime? Quite simply the answer is no.
    If YDR wants to know if it takes too long for police, fire, or EMS to respond to calls, assign a team of reporters to visit each municipal meeting for a period of time. Listen to the complaints about response time at the meetings. Obviously if the problem is of the magnitude warranting study by YDR, citizens would be there raising concerns to municipal leaders. The reality is that YDR staff would likely come back with empty sheets of paper. My hypothesis is that this is a non-issue, and one that YDR wants to stir up only to, as stated above, advance some ill-devised agenda.

  8. Sam,
    Thanks for your comments.
    Just a couple quick things:
    You’ll note I said “one voice,” not “the one voice,” as you quoted me. I said “one voice” intentionally, because there are others who could do the same kind of audit.
    You’re right that citizens hire professionals to oversee public agencies. The citizens also have the right to make sure that those professionals are doing their jobs. Good journalism can provide an independent look at what’s going on.
    You may believe that politics plays a role in what we do. I may not be able to convince you otherwise, but I know that kind of stuff simply doesn’t matter in what we do. It’s a part of our job that we take very seriously — to be independent of the people/agencies/whatever that we cover.
    We do attend public meetings, and response times do come up occasionally. We’ve also had people call us directly and ask us to investigate why it took such-and-such department x-amount of time to get to their house, which ended up burning down. So, the issue is out there.
    Again, thanks for your time in putting down where you stand on this. I think this is a good discussion and I appreciate hearing what you think as well as you hearing my thoughts.

  9. Todd Zimmerman says:

    I am not commenting on if the 911 center should provide generic incident locations or not, but the newspaper’s contention that the location is needed to analyze response times is incorrect.
    Incident locations are not needed to compare fire and EMS response times to national standards as none of the national standards mention location or distance to the incident as a factor in response time. All the national standards require the responding agency to have sufficient resources and station locations to reach ALL locations within their jurisdiction in a certain amount of time.
    For EMS, the major national standard is from the Commission on Accreditation of Ambulance Standards which simply states “for life-threatening requests, the total response-time standard will be eight minutes and fifty-nine seconds, or less, 90% of the time”.
    For fire services, NFPA standard 1710 applies to paid career fire departments and NFPA standard 1720 applies to volunteer fire departments. Neither standard mentions location or distance as a factor. The NFPA 1720 standard changes depending on the population density of the area covered by a particular volunteer fire department, but that is the only factor that changes the standard response time required.
    Therefore, the newspaper could already perform an analysis of fire and EMS response time performance with information that is currently provided.

  10. Todd,
    Thanks, and by your note you seem to have some specific knowledge of this, so let me ask you a question (and let’s take the YDR, and York County, for that matter, out of this particular hypothetical).
    If an agency charged with auditing first responders looked at any set of response times — let’s say, a set of 100 — and 10 of those times were 9 minutes or more, wouldn’t the agency’s first question be where did the units leave from and where did they go those 10 times? Followed by, What happened/why didn’t you make it there in 8:59 or less?
    It seems the first responders would be owed a chance to explain, as opposed to having someone come down on them without knowing any of the details. If an auditor is only looking at numbers, and nothing else, they’re not going to tell the whole story.

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