Legal Hotline: Emergency Time Response Logs

Legal Hotline: Emergency Time Response Logs

PNA Legal Hotline

Q: I requested access to emergency time response logs from the local emergency dispatch agency. The records provided had all response addresses redacted, and as a result, I have no way to determine where the first responders and police were sent. The dispatch agency said the law prohibits releasing specific addresses of 911 responses. Is that right?

A: No, 911 and other emergency response locations are public and must be provided. There is a law that limits access to certain home address information found in emergency time response logs, but even if a specific home address is redacted, the law requires public access to the cross street, mile marker or block identifier closest to the incident.

The Right to Know Law (RTKL) expressly requires public access to emergency time response logs. 65 P.S. § 67.708(b)(18). The term “time response log” is undefined in the text of the RTKL, but case law has interpreted it to require access to emergency response locations. See County of York v. PA Office of Open Records (Czech), 13 A.3d 594 (Pa. Commw. 2011). The Court in the Czech case held that without response location information, there would be no way of determining whether response times were deficient, and as a result, the term “time response logs” must be interpreted to include destination addresses or cross-street information.

In addition to the RTKL, public access to emergency time response logs is also impacted by Act 30 of 2016, 35 P.S. § 5399. This law prohibits emergency response organizations from releasing “identifying information” of 911 callers, victims or witnesses. The law defines “identifying information” as “name, telephone number and home address.” The term does not include the address of the incident, unless the address is the caller’s, victim’s or witness’s home address, or the disclosure of the location would compromise the identity of the caller, victim or witness.

When emergency responders are dispatched to a non-home address such as a business, public park, government building, school, public road or intersection, or any other non-home address, Act 30 should generally not apply to limit public access.

Moreover, even if the confidentiality provisions of Act 30 become applicable, the law expressly requires public access to the street block identifier, the cross street or the mile marker nearest the scene of the incident.

Finally, the confidentiality provisions in Act 30 do not apply if a court determines that the public interest in disclosure outweighs the interest in non-disclosure. News organizations considering pursuing this aspect of the law should consult with an experienced public access law attorney prior to seeking court intervention.

Emergency time response logs should often include the exact response addresses, and in those cases where Act 30 prohibits access to the exact address, the time response logs must include the cross street, block identifier or mile marker closest to the incident.

As always, this is not intended to be, nor should it be construed as, legal advice. Please contact the PNA Legal Hotline at (717) 703-3080 or your news organization’s private counsel with questions.