Adam Johnson

EMS graphic for The University of Texas at Austin ambulance
Photo Credit: Jack Mitts | Daily Texan Staff

Emergency response vehicles navigate through traffic on Guadalupe Street with sirens blaring on a regular basis. There’s a chance they’re headed to an urgent scene, but more likely, the barrage of trucks is dealing with something simple — something most students will never hear about — because even in cases of minor incidents, emergency response personnel tend to work together.

When a student is injured on campus and a 911 call is placed, this call triggers a process involving the coordination of two police departments, Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Service and the Austin Fire Department. Even a minor student injury will catalyze a process dependent on thousands of variables and complex matrices. The student will then likely meet firefighters, EMS workers and a UTPD officer within minutes. 

The first variable that affects the path of a 911 call is geographic — where the call was placed determines who receives it. On-campus landline 911 calls go straight to UTPD, but the majority of emergency requests, made on cell phones, are routed to the nearest city Public Safety Access Point. 

Adam Johnson, acting division chief of Austin-Travis County EMS, said the routing is based on cell phone tower geography. 

“If you hit in one of the areas on campus where you’ll hit a cell phone tower not associated with UT, you’ll be routed to APD,” Johnson said.

Calls about incidents on campus are transferred back to UTPD. 

Once the call has been transferred to the appropriate agency, UTPD dispatchers will ask questions and conference in the Austin Fire Department and EMS, if necessary. To avoid confusion, only one dispatcher asks questions. After a round of initial questioning, AFD or EMS will take over as secondary dispatchers. 

“It’s confusing [for the caller] to have more than one person on the line,” Johnson said. “Typically these are chaotic calls. So we’ll take the lead on the phone — but we work hand in hand [with other agencies].”

The call process and response process as a whole require fluid cooperation between all three agencies. In cases of injury, firemen can often respond faster than EMS workers. In cases of crime, police are required to secure the scene before medical intervention. 

This was the case on Sept. 25, when 22-year-old Chenxi Deng stabbed UT graduate student Li You in the face with a metal fork in the Engineering Sciences Building. 

“We work together as a team, so if somebody’s been stabbed, the ambulance isn’t going to go in until the police have secured the scene,” Johnson said. “We don’t carry weapons.”

Even a hypothetical student falling down stairs would likely result in a response from all three agencies because the fire department has greater resources and usually arrives on the scene before EMS, UTPD Captain Julie Gillespie said.

“If you fell down the stairs, we’re going to respond as police because we want to make a report and know why, but EMS and fire are all responding,” Gillespie said. “If it’s a medical call that comes out, we’re all going to roll.”

Johnson said EMS system deployment relies on the fire department as first responders.

“There are roughly twice as many of them as there are of us,” Johnson said.

For priority-one calls, which include life-threatening conditions such as cardiac arrest, the average EMS response time for incidents on the UT campus was 8 minutes and 15 seconds during the 2012 fiscal year.

In comparison, the Austin Fire Department was on the scene in 4 minutes and 30 seconds.

Once an EMS dispatcher takes the lead in a given emergency call, they will ask a series of questions, and the caller’s answers result in a formulaic determination of how many cars and supervisors to send to the scene. 

Austin-Travis County EMS uses an international system and more than 1,700 different response determinants, including cause of injury and number of people involved in the situation, when responding to an emergency call.

Johnson said EMS dispatchers avoid making intuitive or subjective decisions.

“Our responses are very proscribed, we use a set protocol process,” Johnson said. “We want to have a consistent response, so we try to take as much of the subjectivity — the ‘it doesn’t sound so bad, maybe I won’t send a fire truck’ response — out of the process.”

Similar to the computer-generated responses of EMS, the Austin Fire Department uses the Computer Aided Dispatch system to determine the scope of the response it sends out in a given situation, according to AFD public information officer Michelle Tanzola.

“All buildings of five or more floors are tracked in the CAD system, and [it] will alert our dispatchers when a call has been generated at one of these addresses,” Tanzola said. 

Both firefighters and UTPD are aware of the buildings that might contain hazardous materials.

Gillespie said the campus’ chemistry buildings usually generate a more significant response.

“If it’s Welch, they’re going to send more trucks,” Gillespie said. 

Though EMS and AFD determine responses largely through computers, UTPD personnel largely rely on police standards and training when determining the appropriate response to an emergency call.

“If we get an in-progress call, we’ll usually send two officers, almost no matter what,” Gillespie said. “In our training, what we’re taught is to always have a backup.”

A supervisor might also call for additional police units if the situation presents a risk of escalating danger or involves criminal activity on campus, Gillespie said.

UTPD’s presence in an emergency situation on campus is almost immediate, in large part because the University’s police department’s headquarters are on campus, according to UTPD spokeswoman Cindy Posey.

“With UTPD, it’s a question of blocks, not miles,” Posey said.

Adam Johnson, a radio-television-film alumnus, had an idea that led him to found a company called Brightbox with more than 100 installations in the New York tri-state area. 

Johnson said when he was tending bar in New York, customers asked him to charge their phone constantly. Taking their phone behind the bar is a source of stress for bartenders, who must worry about theft, accidental spills and the serving time it takes away from them.

Johnson would sometimes refuse customers’ requests, something company co-founder Janice Chan, a marketing and law alumna, said led Johnson to an idea when one customer was persistent.

“Adam can be sarcastic, so he says, ‘Yeah, I’ll do that for $200,’” Chan said. “[The customer] puts down two crisp hundreds, puts the iPhone on them as a paperweight, and walks away.”

Chan said Johnson was dumbfounded, and realized there is a real market for charging people’s smartphones. Johnson joined with three friends — Jack Phelps, Pete Harrison and Janice Chan — in order to start Brightbox. The company has since hired Bill Gridley, a former managing director at Goldman Sachs, as its CEO, and has 15 employees.

At the company’s heart is a device that looks like a locker with multiple compartments and a screen on top. Customers swipe their credit card as a form of identification and payment, place their smartphone in the compartment, plug in a charging cable and close the compartment, locking their phone inside until they return and swipe their card again.

Chan said the company plans to have its devices launched on a national scale by the end of 2013, and she hopes to include Austin.

“I still have lots of friends there who tell me it might be popular on 6th Street and lots of restaurants,” Chan said.

This expansion began in the fall of 2010, when Johnson first began discussing his idea with friends. 

Johnson said his experience organizing short film projects in the radio-telivision-film program, which he left uncompleted by two credits, helped him to expand the company.

“A lot of it is just motivating, organizing, fundraising, getting people to work for free,” Johnson said.

Chan said she thought part of founding the company came down to the unique situation of Johnson having a good network in New York when he came up with the idea.

“It honestly was just a bunch of friends who were lucky enough to have the skill sets and see the need in the market at the right time,” she said.

Published on February 20, 2013 as "Alumni develop idea for bright company". 

Antonio Buehler walks out of Travis County jail after being released on bond Friday afternoon. This is Buehler’s third arrest for filming police officers.

Photo Credit: Nathan Goldsmith | Daily Texan Staff

Already arrested twice this year for filming police, Antonio Buehler, 35, received his third arrest early Friday, this time with a UT student.

Buehler and Sarah Dickerson, an art history graduate student, were both arrested near the 1300 block of West Sixth Street around 1:30 a.m. Friday. They were charged with interfering with public duty, a class B misdemeanor punishable with a fine of up to $2,000 and/or up to 180 days in jail, police said. Jail records show that both Buehler and Dickerson were released on bond later that day. Police said that filming police officers is legal, but if an officer believes that interference has begun, he or she may arrest the person filming on the spot, give them a verbal warning or pursue other approved action. 

Buehler and Dickerson were filming Austin police officers conducting a field sobriety test at a DWI stop on West Sixth Street on Friday when an officer involved in the test asked them to back away.

Buehler said he and Dickerson backed away and then followed several other orders given by a different officer, Sergeant Adam Johnson, but despite their attempts to comply with his instructions, they were still arrested.

“We were probably 35 yards away, like over 100 feet away, when he finally arrested us for interfering,” Buehler said. “Officer Johnson said, ‘You have two choices: leave now or go over there,’ and I said, ‘OK, we are leaving,’ and he arrested me.”

Dickerson said she began filming Buehler’s arrest and was then arrested herself.

Buehler said Johnson handed him and Dickerson off to Officer Austin Holmes, who the police consider the arresting officer in both cases.

Buehler and Dickerson said they were concerned about following one of Johnson’s orders because it did not make sense to them.

“Johnson asked us to walk right by the suspect and the arresting officer,” Buehler said. “It was a completely illogical and irrational order.”

Buehler said he thought the order might be a trap, so he asked Johnson if he and Dickerson could move further away instead. Johnson eventually offered them the two options: leave or move to the desired location. 

Buehler said the arrest should never have occurred, as he and Dickerson complied with the orders and were leaving as instructed.

“We were exercising our First Amendment rights,” Buehler said. 

Lisa Cortinas, Austin Police Department spokesperson, said Dickerson and Buehler were arrested because they failed to follow a police order. 

“They were asked to move to the other side of the officer where other witnesses were and they refused,” Cortinas said. 

Buehler was first arrested for filming an APD officer in January and has since founded an organization called Peaceful Streets Project. Buehler said his organization works to promote police accountability and, in turn, create a safer environment for the general public. The organization’s initiatives include campaigns to spread awareness about police corruption and on-foot surveillance of police officers by the group’s members. 

Buehler said it is important to keep police accountable because an arrest can have a devastating impact on an individual’s life, something he now knows from experience. 

“It cost me my reputation,” he said. “Every time someone Googles my name, they see mugshots of me online.”

Buehler said Peaceful Streets Project will be opening several chapters across the country within the next two months. 

“We are going to keep going,” he said. “[The police] think that they can intimidate us by arresting us. But every single time they do this, all they do is get people more pissed off, and more people join the cause.”

Printed on Tuesday, September 25th, 2012 as: Two arrested in filming, charged with interference