While sending 911 text messages is not possible in Napa County today, texting Napa’s emergency center may soon become possible.
Napa city officials have been evaluating systems that would allow emergency texting to Central Dispatch, Napa’s emergency call center. This week, representatives will meet with a vendor to assess how the new technology can be incorporated into its 911 system.
“We just need to find the right fit,” said Gus Ulloth, systems administrator for the city. “We’re evaluating options right now.”
Ulloth and Shirley Perkins — who manages Central Dispatch, which is located at the Napa Police Department — said factors under consideration include cost and the capability of the new technology to integrate with the emergency center’s computer-aided dispatch system.
The new technology could cost $60,000 a year. “That’s quite a big budgetary impact,” Perkins said.
People will have to sign up before they can text, Perkins noted.
The Federal Communications Commission, the federal agency that regulates communications, said in December that texting to 911 will become increasingly available in 2013. AT&T Mobility, Verizon Communications Inc., Sprint Nextel Corp. and T-Mobile USA Inc. have committed with federal regulators to make 911 texting available nationwide by May 2014, according to the FCC.
And Verizon last year became the first wireless company to allow 911 texting, according to media reports.
The FCC said in an emergency, the public should continue to make 911 voice calls if possible.
“Text-to-911 will provide consumers with enhanced access to emergency communications in situations where a voice call could endanger the caller, or a person with disabilities is unable to make a voice call,” said the agency in a statement. “Text-to-911 will be a complement to, not a substitute for, voice calls to 911 services, and consumers should always make a voice call to 911 during an emergency if they can.”
Both Napa Police Capt. Jeff Troendly and Napa Fire Chief Mike Randolph welcome the new technology while cautioning users about its limits.
“Increasing someone’s accessibility to request help is a good thing. However, person-to-person communications should always be the preferred method as it assists our dispatchers in getting the correct information so they can dispatch the correct resources in a timely manner,” Randolph said.
Troendly said 911 texting is “just another avenue of communication.” But, he added, “voice is always better because you can ask questions.”
In the meantime, the technology is coming. “I don’t know when,” he said.
Central Dispatch receives about 130,000 calls a year from throughout Napa County, with the exception of Calistoga and St. Helena.