New Bill Targets Spotty 9-1-1 System

Das Williams Says Routing Issues Can and Should Be Fixed

Prompted by heightened attention to gaps in the state 9-1-1 system and the recent death of a Santa Barbara woman, Assemblymember Das Williams introduced a bill last week that seeks to remedy flaws when people call for help from a cell phone.

At issue is that when someone dials 9-1-1 from a mobile phone, the call is often sent to an answering point in a different city or region before being routed to the local dispatcher, causing a delay. That was the case for 24-year-old Santa Barbara resident Jordon Soto, who died from a medical emergency last year after her family member’s emergency call was first transmitted to Ventura California Highway Patrol offices. To make matters worse, a miscommunication sent medics to the wrong address, and they wasted several minutes searching for Soto’s location. Blaming the flawed system for Soto’s death, her family filed a lawsuit against the state 9-1-1 advisory board, the CHP, the city, and police department late last year.

Santa Barbara resident Dr. Angelo Salvucci started banging the drum on this issue several years ago after the termination of the RED (Routing on Empirical Data) project, which sought to send wireless callers to the appropriate dispatch center and reduce the percentage of busy signals. According to Office of Emergency Services spokesperson Lilly Wyatt, the $7.9 million project was terminated because its contract only lasted from 2007-2011, and a better initiative called Next Generation 911 should launch in about five years, but that project is moving at a “snail’s pace,” Williams argued, adding that a few million dollars each year for the RED project is a small price to pay to remedy a huge statewide problem.

Another problem is determining the exact location of a cell phone caller, especially one who is indoors in a dense urban area. The Federal Communications Commission requires wireless providers to send an accurate location within 300 meters to dispatchers, but according to Salvucci, those standards are not being met in California. Williams’s bill, if passed, would require a study to be conducted by 2017 that includes recommended solutions.

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