911 call center recommendations part of Kyle Plush family settlement

As part of the settlement won against the city by Kyle Plush's family, new recommendations for the city's 911 call center have been issued.
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As part of the settlement won against the city by Kyle Plush's family, new recommendations for the city's 911 call center have been issued.

As part of the settlement won against the city by Kyle Plush’s family, new recommendations for Cincinnati’s 911 call center have been issued.

The city of Cincinnati must pay $6 million and commit to long-term improvements for its Emergency Call Center to settle a wrongful death lawsuit with the family of Kyle Plush, a 16-year-old who suffocated in the back seat of his own van despite making multiple 911 calls for help.

The long-term recommendations for change were released by the Plush family’s attorney, Al Gerhardstein, on Tuesday.

“The most important thing in the settlement is the reform measures. We’ve got an agreement with the city that establishes an expert team, 911 experts from all over the country,” said Gerhardstein at a press conference in April, explaining that the reforms will be court supervised for a five-year term.

A 47-page report released by Gerhardstein lays out issues found within Cincinnati’s 911 call center from technology to staffing to morale. It also found that, as a whole, the Cincinnati Emergency Communications Center has “extremely passionate, dedicated employees.”

It also found that many of those people leave because of low morale and a lack of communication with management.

Because of that, the report reads, the ECC cannot simply “hire its way out of” the staffing issues that cause deeper problems. The report said overall management at the center meets industry standards, but that turnover is an issue.

The report specifically notes that every member of the administrative staff has less than two years in their current position.

Other recommendations include hiring a second operations manager, more formal training on newer policies and changing from a “statistics driven organization to a people-driven environment.”

The report recognized that the ECC has made significant improvements in its technology since the death of Plush, but that it could still introduce new tools that make it easier and faster to find people in distress.

Unions must also begin to put “short term goals aside” and work to be part of the solution, the report said.

It acknowledges that turning around the ECC won’t be easy and will take time, but it said current employees and management are capable of making the necessary changes.

Plush died April 10, 2018, in a parking lot across the street from Seven Hills School, which he attended. The teen, who was unusually small for his age, was taking items out of his minivan that afternoon when he became trapped in the third-row bench seat.

His cause of death would be termed “asphyxia caused by chest compression” by Hamilton County Coroner Lakshmi Sammarco; “positional asphyxiation” by prosecutor Joe Deters. Some mechanism in his van’s seats pressed against his chest until he suffocated and died. Because of his small size and the fact he had become trapped at the end of the school day, no one around him saw him struggling.

But before he died, Plush used the Siri virtual assistant on his out-of-reach iPhone to make two calls to 911. In both, he gasped, cried, described his vehicle and told the 911 call-takers he believed his life was in danger.

The first call-taker at Cincinnati’s Emergency Call Center labeled the call “unknown trouble” and dispatched two police officers without describing the vehicle or telling them of Plush’s stated fears for his life.

The officers drove to the scene but never left their patrol vehicle and did not search nearby parking lots. Plush called again while they were nearby.

The second call-taker accidentally activated a teletypewriter connection meant for callers who are hard of hearing; as a result, the volume of the call was drastically lowered and she did not clearly hear Plush’s voice. She ended the call and never recorded information about it in the computer-aided dispatch system, which froze while she was on the phone.

A recording of the call includes audio of Plush repeatedly attempting to reactivate Siri after Smith stops responding to him.

A teacher discovered his body later that night.

The Plush family filed the wrongful death suit against the city in 2019, personally naming the two 911 call-takers who handled their son’s case and the two police officers, Officers Edsel Osborn and Brian Brazile, who were sent to search for them.

Their suit alleged former City Manager Harry Black and the city were aware at the time of Plush’s death that the ECC struggled with inadequate staffing, inadequate training on the teletypewriter system, the computer-aided dispatch system freezing, system-wide outages, lack of training on use of wireless location technology and lack of training and supervision of police officers in the field.

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