Escondido upgrades its 911 calling system

ESCONDIDO — Residents may not hear the difference, but a soon-to-be installed and upgraded 911 system is coming to the area in the coming months.

In its first meeting of the year, the City Council approved on Wednesday a grant for the city’s dispatch center.

Lt. Ed Varso, of the Escondido Police Department, said the system provides better efficiency and keeps the city in line with state requirements.

According to Varso, the city must upgrade the system about every five years and now is the time for Escondido to act. The cost is $383,452.30, but will be covered by a grant from the California Office of Emergency Services, he added.

The upgrade, which consists mostly of software, must be replaced instead of standard software upgrades. Varso said the city anticipates the upgrades to be completed by June.

Although residents may not notice a difference on their end, Varso said the upgrade will slightly improve on the average 30-second routing time from callers to dispatchers to first responders and allows Voice-over-Internet Provider (VoIP) calling.

The new system is being mandated throughout the country as part of increasing response times and adding new features for individuals in emergency situations.

Called the Next Generation 911 or Next Generation Emergency Services, the product also includes the ability for people to contact dispatchers through text and photos. In Escondido, however, the city will not have the text and photo capabilities, although Varso said it “hinges on infrastructure upgrades at the state level.” Varso said those upgrades are currently ongoing, however, no timeline for implementation has been established.

“The good news with this is that by our dispatch center making the necessary upgrades this year, we will be ready to roll out Next Gen 911 once the state upgrades are complete,” he added. “There are greater efficiencies in how the system routes 911 calls, but mostly it’s an internal thing.”

City dispatchers, though, recommended the installation of AT&T’s VESTA program, which feature browser-based analytics, a netclock system, reliable GPS master clock technology and support the aforementioned features.

Another bonus of the program, meanwhile, is it is capable of going mobile in case of an emergency to the dispatch center. Varso said two laptop computers will have the program installed, which dispatchers can still receive calls off site.

“They can continue 911 emergency operations,” he added.

The center, meanwhile, is the only one of San Diego County cities serving both fire and police departments with between four to eight employees per shift, Varso added.

The city’s last upgrade was approved in 2009 and put into service in May 2010.

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