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Verizon plans to update 911 routing technology after Denver's East Colfax neighborhood calls for change

Verizon plans to update technology for 911 routing after Denver's East Colfax neighborhood calls for change
Posted at 10:40 PM, Aug 03, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-05 12:00:29-04

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect a change to Kyaw Lwin Oo's name. In the aftermath of Ma Kaing's passing, her son, Lwin Oo, has requested his first name be published as "Kyaw"— the name his mother gave him at birth. Previous stories surrounding these circumstances may refer to his first name as "John".

DENVER — A Wednesday announcement from Verizon brought Denver's East Colfax neighborhood one step closer to the overhaul its been advocating for since the passing of a beloved community member.

On July 15, Ma Kaing was shot and killed by a stray bullet, according to witnesses. The night of her passing, 911 calls from Kaing's son and others should've gone straight to Denver dispatchers, but they didn't.

Since the tragedy, community members have come forward alleging a history of poor 911 service and police response to Denver's East Colfax neighborhood.

Verizon plans to update 911 routing technology after Denver's East Colfax neighborhood calls for change

In a community meeting on July 27, Denver's 911 director, Andrew Dameron, said the misrouted 911 calls occurred solely with Verizon subscribers. He explained the calls pinged off of a nearby cell tower serviced by Aurora dispatchers at the time of the shooting.

Dameron also said the problem likely wouldn't have occurred had Verizon implemented location-based routing.

On Wednesday, in a statement to Denver7, a spokesperson for Verizon said the carrier plans to implement the technology in 911 centers across the nation in early 2023.

Verizon plans to implement location-based routing (LBR), not only in Colorado but nationwide. But LBR is an interim stopgap measure until local 911 centers implement standards-based (NENA i3) Next Generation 911 (NG911) call routing capabilities. This is not just Verizon’s position, but the position of the public safety community at large. Indeed, Verizon recognizes that wireless service providers must also upgrade their own networks to support NG911, and Verizon has taken a leading role in the industry to do just that. However, while we have been concerned about LBR reliability in the past, we understand that, unfortunately, many local 911 centers will not be ready to accommodate NG911 standards in the near future. Therefore, Verizon has committed to implementing LBR nationwide for local 911 centers who want it. That implementation is targeted for 1Q2023. Concurrently, we strongly support recent efforts in Congress to provide funding for state and local government NG911 implementation, which will help 911 centers realize the benefits of text, multimedia and video, as well as voice 911 calls.
Heidi Flato, Verizon spokesperson

Following the announcement, Dameron expressed his satisfaction with the news in an interview with Denver7.

"Verizon is correct, that there is a lot of work that has to be done — not just in Colorado, but nationwide — to get our infrastructure where it needs to be for that next generation, that newer technology to take hold," he said. "That's why we are pushing so hard for the cell providers to implement this location-based routing on their handsets. Because as they say, it is a stopgap measure, but it's a very necessary one to get us where we're going."

Dameron said Verizon's plans also come after a startling realization.

"They actually found that the cell tower that those 911 calls were hitting — that's actually just across Yosemite from the apartment complex. It was programmed incorrectly. There were sectors of that cell tower that were routing to Aurora, when really they should have been routing to Denver," he said.

Dameron said the cell tower had been reprogrammed as of Wednesday morning. He also said he's ordered an audit of all cell towers on Denver's border to ensure 911 calls are routed correctly moving forward.

Despite the misrouted 911 calls that occurred the night Kaing died, according to computer-aided dispatch reports obtained by Denver7, officers and paramedics arrived on scene less than five minutes after Kaing was shot. Still, those who knew and loved Kaing, feel vital time was wasted.

"Ma’s death has brought to the surface repeated patterns of public safety failures in our community," Brendan Greene, co-founder of the East Colfax Community Collective, said during another community meeting held on Wednesday at Hidden Brook Apartments.

Ma Kaing's song, Kyaw Lwin Oo, also shared his grief and frustration to a room visibly shaken.

"Would you guys want to be transferred to a different department because of your cell phone service?" Lwin Oo said.

Verizon has called on local 911 centers to implement next-generation call routing (NG911). The carrier said they feel NG911 is more reliable than location-based routing.

Dameron said the implementation would require action on the state level. Denver's 911 Task Force is currently drafting legislation to bring before state legislators.

First responders at the community meeting made additional commitments to those in attendance for safety enhancements in the East Colfax neighborhood.

Denver Police confirmed the installation of a roving camera system at New Freedom Park. The camera system will serve as a temporary fixture until a permanent camera be installed.

Dameron also said Denver dispatchers will soon complete new training encompassing race and social justice.