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Chauvin trial puts focus on gaps in 911 system revealed during George Floyd riots

Liz Navratil, Star Tribune on

Published in News & Features

MINNEAPOLIS — Metro-area 911 centers lacked the technology to communicate amid jammed phone lines and crowded radio channels during rioting last year — and that has not changed as officials brace for the first trial in George Floyd's death.

With a larger solution still far off, state and local leaders are pinning their hopes on a patchwork of smaller fixes they hope will lead to a smoother response if violence erupts this time.

"Clearly, I think it was a missed opportunity," said Jill Rohret, executive director of the Metropolitan Emergency Services Board, adding that leaders feel new urgency to address the technological gap.

Regional leaders have known for years that a new information-sharing system could help them communicate electronically when other networks aren't available, making it easier to respond to 911 calls during frantic times.

For now, state and local leaders are taking steps to streamline their response in others ways: Law enforcement established a center where crucial leaders can work, in hopes it will improve communication. National Guard members are testing radios. Minneapolis leaders hope to reduce 911 call volume by giving residents guidance on which types of issues could be handled by other offices.

"I think we can be more planful and in front of this," City Coordinator Mark Ruff said. Having had months to prepare, they "won't have the same kind of panicked reaction we did previously."

 

An after-action report released by the emergency services board last fall provided one of the most detailed glimpses into the metro region's 911 responses last summer.

As rioting overtook peaceful protests following Floyd's death, cell towers flooded with traffic. Some emergency calls from the Twin Cities were automatically sent as far away as Anoka County.

"There was no ability to transfer 911 callers or the incident information being reported ... because of radio and telephone system congestion," according to the report. Centers also lacked a way to quickly transfer information electronically.

The metro area has 25 911 centers. Each has a computer-aided dispatch system, which allows workers to send call information to officers in the field, often by pinging it to computers in their cars.

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