Lower North Fork Fire investigation reveals 911 "fall-out" of 100,000 phone records

The Lower North Fork Fire near Conifer cost many thousands of dollars in damaged or destroyed property and, most importantly, three lives, including Ann Appel, who didn't receive a reverse 911 emergency notification because of a glitch in the system. And it was hardly the only one. As revealed in a just-released Jefferson County document, approximately 100,000 phone records suffered a "fall-out" from the Jeffco and Broomfield database.

The document summarizes a teleconference on Tuesday involving members of the Jefferson County Emergency Communications Authority, the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office and FirstCall, the company that contracts with Jeffco to provide emergency notifications.

The first data spotlighted involves the issue of why some people living in the area of the fire didn't receive reverse 911 notifications. Turns out that geocoding, which is supposed to pinpoint the location of residents, worked properly for anyone in homes placed under the heading "Littleton." However, records categorized as "Morrison" wound up being designated as "unknown." This resulted in the records being run again, and the second time through, they were placed in or near the physical town of Morrison, which more than ten miles outside the fire zone.

Yes, Appel's number incorrectly showed that she was in Morrison.

At this point, there's debate about whether a 911 call would have saved Appel. A 9News report suggests that her home may have already been destroyed by the time the notifications went out due to the fast-moving, high-wind-fueled nature of the blaze. But the issues with geocoding apparently go beyond Littleton, Morrison or the foothills communities so brutally impacted by the conflagration.

When officials recognized that there were problems with the system, the document notes that FirstCall "re-geocoded" the database for Jefferson and Broomfield counties. The result? A "fall-out of approximately 100,000 records."

Figuring out why this happened and correcting it before the next disaster is only one of many items on Jeffco's to-do list. Read the entire document below.

JCECA -- Summary of FirstCall Conference Call 04/03/12, 1330 hrs


Jeff Irvin, JCECA Dennis Tharp, JCECA Scott Hunter, JCSO Diane Culverhouse, JCSO Matt Teague, FirstCall Ryan Trahan, FirstCall

Items Discussed:

1) Requested detailed explanation of why some homes in the area of the wildfire last week did not receive notifications sent by JCSO via the FirstCall Emergency Notification System (ENS).

a. ADE extract data received from CenturyLink is run through an application that geocodes each record such that each record is given a coordinate within a street range on the street centerline near each residence.

b. Homes with records in the area that had "Littleton" in the "Community Name" field of the extracted data appear to have coded correctly.

c. Homes with records in the area that had "Morrison" in the "Community Name" field of the extract "fell-out" of the first geocoding run as "unknown."

d. The records that fell-out as unknown were run through again and the system placed them in or near the Town of Morrison.

e. When the polygons were selected for ENS launches, the records were not within the polygon boundary due to the incorrect coordinates in the ENS database.

2) Subsequent to this occurrence and upon recognizing that there were problems with the geocoding, FirstCall re-geocoded the entire Jefferson County/Broomfield 9-1-1 database against the MSAG database maintained by GeoComm. This resulted in a fall-out of approximately 100,000 records.

a. FirstCall sent these records to GeoComm and requested that they look at each record and assist them in confirming whether or not there is a problem with the coordinates produced for each of these records.

b. For records for which a problem is found, FirstCall will work with GeoComm and/or CenturyLink to "clean up" the data so that correct coordinates are in the ENS system.

3) There was a discussion of a report by a citizen who advised that one or more of their cell phones which had been registered via the online form ( ). Did not receive notifications at all or received some but not others.

a. It was explained that this problem occurs because the system used in the online form to generate a map coordinate (Google Maps) apparently uses a different dataset than that generated by the geocoding for the wireline phones. This can, and apparently did, result in coordinates for the cell phones that are in a different location than that of the wireline phone.

b. The wireline phone coordinate will be on the street centerline in an address range and the cell phone coordinate may be in the center of the structure due to the use of assessor or other data used by Google Maps.

c. If a polygon is drawn for an ENS notification does not include both points, one or more of the phones may not receive a notification. This can happen in the case of large land parcels where the residence is located some distance from the street centerline.

d. It was explained that Google Maps is used in the registration form to provide an instant method of showing the person registering a phone where on the map the point of registration occurs. It also provides for immediate production of a record for inclusion in the data used for ENS notification.

e. There are currently approximately 21,000 records in the online registration database. Each record in this database may contain multiple phones or devices at one subscriber address.

f. Phones registered in the online database that do not reside in Jefferson or Broomfield counties will not receive ENS notifications unless:

i. The address under which the device was registered is within a polygon selected for a notification or

ii. The feature to launch to all web registrants is selected when conducting an ENS notification.

4) Action Items:

a. Irvin to contact GeoComm and authorize them to review fall-out records set to them by FirstCall and to work with FirstCall for a resolution to the geocoding anomalies.

b. FirstCall is to develop a method of converting the coordinate produced when an online registration occurs such that it will coincide with that of a wireline phone geocoded at the same residence in order to assure the online registered devices are included in ENS notifications.

c. FirstCall will provide a method for citizens to review the data records in the system for both their wireline, static VoIP (Comcast) and online registered phones.

i. Irvin requested that JCECA be "in the loop" with regard to messages from citizens indicating record corrections are needed. Irvin will provide an email address for correction message routing from citizens.

ii. Once this "look-up" mechanism is established, FirstCall will transmit an email message to all who are currently registered asking them to check their data record for accuracy.

iii. FirstCall advised that we can go to: to see an example of a look-up function they have set-up for the Delaware Emergency Management Agency (DEMA).

d. FirstCall will add a feature that will allow system users to pull reports with more statistical information that is currently available. Additionally users will be able to look-up data records in the system for individual numbers rather than having to draw a polygon and look for a record in the generated list.

e. Irvin will work with FirstCall and the Advisory Committee to revise the online registration form in response to input received from citizens who were confused as to how it works. Additionally the confirmation process when registering will be enhanced so that citizens can more easily see and understand what the map representation of the geocoded location of registered devices is presenting to them.

f. Irvin will contact CenturyLink and facilitate a dialog between FirstCall and their representative regarding the structure of the ALI Database Extract (ADE) extract records.

i. Questions to be answered:

1. Why do some homes in the area of the wildfire show "Littleton" in the "Community Name" field and why so some show "Morrison."

2. Is the NENA 2.0 Data Exchange set format we are being provided by CenturyLink the optimum format for geocoding purposes or is there some other set that would improve the integrity of the ENS system geocoding process.

g. The next conference call was set for Friday, 04/06/12 at 0830 MDT to update the status of the action items and discuss any additional findings regarding the performance of the ENS system. Irvin will send out an Outlook appointment scheduling this call.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts