Gov. Gavin Newsom visited the San Francisco 911 Emergency Call Center Friday with Mayor London Breed to reaffirm his commitment to bringing the statewide system into the 21st century.
Newsom last month signed the state’s 2019-2020 budget, which included a one-time $50 million investment in technology upgrades for the 911 system. A new fee paid by cell phone users will generate revenue needed to fund improvements.
Mary Ellen Carroll, executive director of The City’s Department of Emergency Management, where the call center is located, said GPS technology used for ride-hail apps has just recently been available to call centers.
“I’ve been the director here for a year and it’s just amazing how much we are able to accomplish, but with technology that is literally decades behind.”
Response speed and ability to confirm a 911 caller’s accurate location is paramount during any emergency, officials said.
“Nowadays, it’s not just about making phone calls. People are texting messages and delivering messages in a lot of different ways and so it is time our system reflects the changes in technology.”
Newsom said at least 80 percent of 911 calls now come from cell phones, but current call centers predate internet and cell phone technology.
“The reality is that they don’t have the technology. They don’t have the tools to connect. They don’t have the capacity to redirect call volume if something goes wrong or if there is a surge in that volume.”
The new technology will help call centers divert callers to other centers during volume surges, Newsom said.
According to the governor’s office, the new 33-cent fee for landline and cellphone users will generate an estimated $175 million annually, which will fund continual upgrades to the aging 911 system. If needed, the fee could be increased to as much as 80 cents.
Newsom touted that the 33-cent fee is still one of the lowest 911 surcharges in the nation.
While it will take years to complete the upgrades, Newsom said the state will decide later this month which vendors will support the system.
Officials are aiming to complete the upgrade project by the end of 2022.