On a day when the L.A. Fire Department's reported media blackout started a firestorm of debate, the department's information pipeline began trickling with data again.
This morning the department put out alerts about a fire in the 2300 block of South Broadway near downtown and a possible electrical incident in the 1000 Block of West Washington Boulevard that saw a local school evacuated as a precaution.
Has there been a change of heart?
Last night City News Service broke the news that, beginning Sunday, the department began omitting the addresses of incidents it reports to the media.
Spokesman Matt Spence told us today that we and other outlets “jumped the gun” on calling this a media blackout. But the alerts to the media seemed to slow to a trickle (there was one between this morning's pair and Sunday, when City News said the quasi-blackout began) in recent days.
He said that while the department will not likely return to the days of reporting medical-related emergencies as a result of the City Attorney's interpretation of federal patient privacy laws, the rest of the LAFD's media information will go on as usual:
Were we overprotective initially, yes. We will still provide timely and accurate information the meida. It's evolving.
He says that part of the slow down in data has been the result of not many “significant incidents” in the last few days.
But Spence said that because of the City Attorney's advice regarding the Federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which has been in effect for years, reports on injury and health-related calls would remain behind the red curtain.
“There will be no alerts on physical rescues, traffic accidents, and obvious patient issues,” Spence said.
City News tied the blackout to bad press the department has received regarding its emergency response times, which have turned out to be not as swift as the LAFD had previously reported.
The spokesman argues that it's about the law, not about City Hall politics:
Our biggest concern is the protected health information. We're trying to work togehter and trying to figure out what is right.