Organizations look to technology to help prevent swatting calls

Update Thursday, Jan. 4:

For decades, 911 centers across the country have relied on now outdated practices to receive and dispatch calls. Recently, many have begun upgrading to newer systems - called Next Generation 9-1-1.

It's something industry experts hope can help detect swatting calls, a growing problem nationwide.

For dispatchers across the country, swatting is nothing new.

"Swatting is a persistent problem that we've been dealing with for a number of years now." says Trey Forgety, with the National Emergency Numbers Association (NENA). "For example, in 2015 in the state of New Jersey alone they reported more than 200 swatting incidents."

NENA is an organization that specializes in 9-1-1 policy and technology, and it's been working with 9-1-1 centers nationwide to help put an end to swatting.

Part of that solution means looking towards new technology that may be able to help dispatchers identify fake calls. They hope to achieve this with a system called Next Generation 9-1-1.

"The technology that was put in place in 1968 has evolved very slowly." says John Chiaramonte with Mission Critical Partners, a professional consulting firm that deals with 9-1-1 agencies at all levels of government.

"Next Generation 9-1-1 is that evolution, or transformation of today's 9-1-1 to an IP based technology - where we use networks and advanced technologies to share 9-1-1 information from the caller to the most appropriate 9-1-1 center in the community," he says.

The system is already in place in many 9-1-1 centers nationwide - including in Sedgwick County, but they're still working to implement new technologies that can allow dispatchers to help recognize fake calls.

"One of the technologies that we're working on for Next Generation 9-1-1, and that commercial and internet providers are working on, is a call authentication framework - those are called "stir" and "shaken" says Forgety. "We're working to make sure that Next Generation 9-1-1 systems can leverage those authentication frameworks to know when a call appears to be more legitimate, or when it appears to be less legitimate, so that they can help calltakers make good decisions about what to dispatch, and potentially extra information to supply to responders in the field."

Both men also agree that tougher legislation on false 9-1-1 calls could help deter people from making them in the future.

"I think one change that we would certainly support is a toughening of laws governing false 9-1-1 calls, particularly when there's an element of intent to cause a swatting response." says Forgety. "In a lot of cases, those incidents are still subject to the regular misdemeanor laws that other false reports and false 9-1-1 calls are."

He also advocates for more training for dispatchers to help recognize red flags.

"In the recent Kansas SWATTING incident, that call actually came in over sort of the city hall security booth line. That's a very unusual way for a call to come in, unless a call is coming from a particular location like that - so that's one kind of Red Flag that telecommunicators can look for."

"If you think about the millions - hundreds of millions - of 9-1-1 calls made every year, very few of them are of this type of nature." says Chiaramonte. "Could there be things that could be done to try to identify that this might be a swatting type of incident? Could there be advanced interrogation techniques, caller interrogation techniques - perhaps.The challenge, is that 9-1-1 professionals need to treat every 9-1-1 call as if it was real and it's very difficult to differentiate when someone is not being truthful."

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Dispatchers take every call that comes in as an emergency.

"We have to go with what the caller tells us," says Jody Mader, a Butler County dispatcher.

Wichita Police didn't find out a call that came in on December 28th was a prank until after Andrew Finch was shot and killed.

Police surrounded Finch's home- ready for a hostage situation with the information dispatchers got from the caller. Police are now saying it was a swatting call.

L.A PD says Tyler Barriss was arrested in connected with the call, which came into city hall and was transferred to dispatchers.

"There are hidden phone numbers at times depending on how they call in. If they call administration lines and it rolls over, they may not have numbers on them or get a true phone number to call back, " said Mader.

Mader says getting calls from out of state is common and it wouldn't necessarily be a concern or raise any red flags. She says no matter where the call is coming from, or what the caller says, they take every call seriously. Their job is to get as much information as they can and give it to officers.

"Prank calls are hard. We never know if it's true or not. If we do get a call and think it's a prank and it's not, that's dangerous to us, so we have to take every call as a real call."