S.B. Officials Still Banging the 9-1-1 Drum

Frustrations Grow with Troubled State System

The state’s Office of Emergency Services severed ties last week with Public Safety Network, heightening frustrations among several area officials who have been bird-dogging the issue for years. The Santa Barbara–based company developed a program to identify and track errors in the notoriously fraught 9-1-1 system. Former fire chief Warner McGrew likened the move by state officials to getting rid of a mechanic to solve a car problem. “You don’t want to hear about it because you don’t want to buy two quarts of oil [to fix the car],” he said. 

In the state, about 80 percent of 9-1-1 calls are made from a cell phone. About half those go straight to dispatch centers run by the California Highway Patrol (CHP), but experts say most calls should be sent to dispatch centers at police or sheriff’s offices because they are made far from the highway. Of the hundreds of dispatch centers in the state, just 24 are operated by the CHP. In Santa Barbara, it is unclear the percentage of wireless calls that are answered by a CHP dispatcher 30 miles south in Ventura and then rerouted to a closer dispatch center.

In 2008, Public Safety Network launched the RED Project, a nationally recognized system that fixed about 10 percent of call sectors in the state so that 9-1-1 calls would be sent to the closest dispatch center, saving a small amount of time and minimizing mishaps. But to the dismay of a number of area public-safety officials, the roughly $8 million project’s contract was not renewed in 2011. Last year, the case of 24-year-old Jordan Soto heightened awareness to the problem after her family charged the 9-1-1 system’s flaws contributed to her death.

Meanwhile, Assemblymember Das Williams has a two-year bill winding through the state legislature that would fund money to study the 9-1-1 system. Last Tuesday, Williams added amendments to the measure to restart the RED Project. The next day, the state office of emergency services requested a second project run by the Public Safety Network ​— ​costing $123,000 per month ​— ​be discontinued. “It’s absurd,” said Don Reich, vice president of the Public Safety Network. “We have been doing this for 20 years.” Supporters note it’s a small price ​— ​for a major benefit ​— ​out of the department’s total budget. It is unclear the exact reason the contract was discontinued. In an email, Kelly Huston, deputy director in the governor’s office of emergency services, said the project was not intended to be an indefinite expense and that the department is conducting a needs reassessment of the project. The matter will be discussed at a 9-1-1 advisory board meeting on August 13.

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