Some 911 calls ring elsewhere
Can your phone reach 911 in Grand Junction when you need it?
The answer to that question — much to the growing concern of police and dispatchers in Grand Junction — isn’t always what you’d assume. Amid growth in cellular and broadband- enabled landline phone services, Grand Junction authorities are urging phone customers to do their own homework and know the fine print in their service contracts.
“If you are relying on a voice-over (Internet protocol) product and that’s what your phone service is, it might behoove you to make sure a call to 911 actually gets you to the Grand Junction Regional Communication Center and not some other call center that has to get you routed there,” said Police Cmdr. Mike Nordine said.
At least twice in the past six months, Grand Junction residents have called 911 only to reach out-of-state call centers or similar facilities in other parts of Colorado. There may be more instances that weren’t identified, Nordine said.
On Feb. 18, a 911 call from a woman at Clifton Community Church about smoke in the building was initially routed to a call center in Steamboat Springs. Several minutes later, and only after the out-of-town dispatcher had gathered basic information including location and address, the call was properly redirected to the Grand Junction Regional Communication Center.
That’s precious time.
“It took two to three minutes to figure out the call had to come here,” Nordine said. “If it’s a child (caller) or someone who can’t speak because of their situation, or they’re injured, that could be a very bad deal.”
A minority of residents may have similar problems waiting to happen, he said.
“By no means do we think Charter or Verizon, or any of the other major players, are the ones with the problem here,” Nordine said. “They do a good job with the calls.”
Problem is it’s hard to say which providers are potentially problematic, authorities say.
Paula Creasy, projects manager for the Grand Junction Regional Communication Center, said they don’t receive notification when a new service provider starts operations in the Grand Valley.
“People need to look at the contracts with their phone provider and ask, ‘Where will my call go if I call 911 and will the call also have name and address information?’ ” Creasy said.
The issues underscore concern raised by public safety officials about legislation that would deregulate aspects of voice-over-Internet protocols for some services.
While proponents of House Bill 1329, including sponsor state Rep. Angela Williams, D-Denver, have pledged there will be protections for consumers for 911 emergency service, some are still leery.
The bill says the Colorado Public Utilities Commission’s ability to regulate “basic emergency service” is not impacted.
“Our concern is the interpretation of the word ‘basic’ that leaves it ambiguous,” said Monica Million, operations manager at Grand Junction dispatch offices.
Million and others have pushed for inclusion of language that specifies certain technologies and others “no matter what comes along.”
“As technology is evolving faster than you can buy a new device, we have to make sure the public is protected,” she said.
HB 1329 was approved by the Colorado House on Wednesday and advances to state Senate for debate.