FONTANA — Emergency communications in California took a giant step forward on December 15th with the formal launch of California’s first countywide “Text to 9-1-1” program in San Bernardino County and parts of Riverside County.
The program enables persons in those communities who are deaf, hard of hearing or have speech impairments and have phones or devices that include text or data plans to communicate more effectively with 9-1-1 dispatchers through text messages instead of traditional TDD, TTY or video relay systems. It will also help persons who find themselves in a dangerous situation and cannot safely contact 9-1-1 by phone to access assistance.
San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department Communications Manager Cyndee Freeman likened Text to 9-1-1 to a regular text session.
“You text via your SMS (short message service) text to 9-1.1,” she said. “The dispatchers will receive that (information) and start a conversation,” she said.
Because the accuracy of locations varies depending on the carrier, she said those using the system need to provide their location as well as the nature of their emergency.
“We’ve noticed that some carriers are pretty much spot-on (location-wise), some are off, but as we’ve been testing over the last year, we’ve noticed that is changing,” she said. “It’s a new technology. We’re the first region in the State of California to have this technology.”
“Public safety is a dynamic and fluid profession that requires ongoing strategies to ensure public safety. Text to 9-1-1 technology is a perfect example of these strategies,” said California Highway Patrol (CHP) Inland Division Assistant Chief Bill Dance during a press conference at the CHP’s Inland Communications Center to roll out the program. “Communications technology has expanded and the ability for us to receive and respond to text 9-1-1s is finally here. Because of ever-changing technology, TDD, telecommunications device for deaf, and TTY teletypewriters are becoming obsolete. Individuals who are deaf, hard of hearing, or speech-impaired will now have the option to text 9-1-1 Instead of using these old and obsolete devices.”
San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon described the official rollout of Text to 9-1-1 as a “an exciting day for us in the county” and said most of the public safety agencies in the county, as well as several in Riverside County, are participating in Text to 9-1-1.
Although there are limitations, including problems when mobile phones are in the roaming mode, he said Text to 9-1-1 “is a critical piece of technology, and we need to evolve as technology does. This gives folks another opportunity to report crimes and contact our 9-1-1 dispatch centers.”
Since going “live” on November 9th of this year, “our dispatchers have received numerous text 9-1-1s. It’s been a smooth transition with receiving these text messages, and we anticipate it’s going to be a great service to those who need it,” CHP Assistant Chief Dance. “The CHP, as well as our public safety partners in the law enforcement and fire services throughout San Bernardino County and parts of Riverside County, are committed to providing the highest level of service to the public, and text to 9-1-1 is an example of that commitment.”
CHP Assistant Chief Dance, San Bernardino County Sheriff McMahon and California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) Assistant Director Karen Wong stressed that even though Text to 9-1-1 is now available through 23 Public Safety Access Points (PSAPs) in San Bernardino County and parts of Riverside County, the should “call if you can, text if you can’t.”
Cal OES Assistant Director for Public Safety Communications Karen Wong cited the leadership role of San Bernardino County in making Text to 9-1-1 a reality in California and noted the program’s importance.
“Cal OES has statewide responsibility for 9-1-1 in California, and we couldn’t be more proud to partner with San Bernardino County and Riverside counties on rolling out Text-to-9-1-1,” she said “They are true leaders in the State of California. With the 23 PSAPS, it will absolutely change the way people can communicate with 9-1-1.”
She praised Sheriff McMahon for his efforts.
“He has truly been a leader,” Wong said “As soon as “Text-to-9-1-1’ became available about a year ago, the first thing we started hearing at the State 9-1-1 Office is San Bernardino is interested. Having that type of leadership in California truly sends a big message to the constituents.”
Cal OES Assistant Director Wong said San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department Communications Manager Cyndee Freeman, “has also been a true leader in this. Without her dedication and drive to get this moving forward, it wouldn’t have happened as it has, so we at the state truly thank both of them.”
She also thanked the CHP, staff in the Cal OES 9-1-1 Office and all of Cal OES’s industry partners for their contributions.
Members of the public need to use plain text when using Text to 9-1-1, San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Communications Manager Freeman said, noting that Text to 9-1-1 messages that include abbreviations or emojis will be bounced back.
“We want to make sure the citizens know to send us plain text, not abbreviations, and we will respond the same way,” she said. “All of our dispatchers have been trained to respond in plain text, not abbreviations or emojis,” she said noting that abbreviations and emojis will bounce back.”
To help fund the program, Cal OES is providing each of the 23 PSAPs approximately $1,900 annually.
For information on the Cal OES Public Safety Communications Office, click http://tinyurl.com/pymgtlj.
For more information on Text to 9-1-1, click http://tinyurl.com/pbqo86y.
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