Text-to-911 Capabilities Coming Soon to Napa County, Calif.

Like many other dispatch centers that have adopted the modern technology, officials in the Napa area say the text option is only to be used when a conversation is not possible for safety reasons.

by Courtney Teague, Napa Valley Register / January 31, 2019
Shutterstock

(TNS) — Most cellphone users in Napa County may be able to text 911 for help within a month or two.

People should not think of the texting program as a replacement for a phone call, but it may help in situations where it is dangerous for someone to call, such as a domestic violence incident or home burglary, Gus Ulloth, head of the city of Napa’s 911 communications. Having a conversation with 911 dispatchers over text can be cumbersome, but it allows first responders to have a general idea of what they’re walking into.

Proponents say texting 911 is a significant development for those who are deaf, hard of hearing or have a speech disability.

The launch of 911 texting is expected to cover the county, except for St. Helena or Calistoga whose residents will not be able to use the service, Ulloth said.

St. Helena City Manager Mark Prestwich said the city is not developing a 911 texting program. Calistoga officials did not return requests Tuesday seeking clarification on if or when residents would be able to text 911.

More than 18,000 people in California texted 911 in 2017, according to a 2018 report from the state emergency services office. That’s a small fraction of the 28 million 911 calls made that year.

Eighty percent of emergency calls came from a cellphone, 15 percent came from a landline, and a total of five percent came from various other technologies, according to the report.

The local California Highway Patrol is one of about 180 law enforcement agencies in the state that already accept texts to 911. All CHP agencies in the Bay Area participate, Ulloth said, and texts can be directed to CHP dispatchers when a cellphone user is on a state road.

As technology has evolved, so has the way that the public tries to contact emergency officials. Ulloth believes this service is one that the community needs.

It costs $20,000 per year to pay for the technology and systems that keep the text to 911 program running, he said.

The city is still working through kinks with the program, but it hopes to debut and test the service with an unofficial launch within a month. Dispatchers will be trained on the service, but anyone who happens to text 911 during that time will still receive service. The city will announce the program is up and running about a month after its unofficial launch.

In the meantime, anyone who tries to text 911 in Napa County will receive an immediate reply directing the person to call 911 for assistance.

©2019 Napa Valley Register, Calif. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.