November 30, 2022

Public safety 911 enhancements discussed

A row of mailboxes off Riata Road near Tularosa.

A row of mailboxes off Riata Road near Tularosa.

App-based businesses such as food delivery and ride-share companies use GPS to find their customers. But the New Mexico 911 Program does not have that technology to do that yet.

The Next Generation 911 is expected to bring the current analog 911 system into the 21st century.

“The New Mexico 911 Program works to provide a best-in-class 911 system that facilitates efficient and reliable public safety response to best serve the communities of New Mexico,” Stephen A. Weinkauf, bureau chief of the E-911 Bureau’s Local Government Division, Department of Finance and Administration, said at a Rural Economic Opportunities Task Force meeting Nov. 21. 

Enacted in March 2022, the New Mexico 911 Program was established by the ENHANCE 911 Act of 2004, or the Ensuring Needed Help Arrives Near Callers Employing 911 Act of 2004, which sought to upgrade the nation’s 911 system in the post-9/11 years.

One of the issues the new system will enhance is finding rural addresses.

In some places, street names did not exist prior to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. In some cases there are now house numbers and street names where before Sept. 11, 2001, there had been none.

New Mexico is in process of transitioning from the E-911 to the Next Generation 911 Program, or NextGen 911,  which “is a digital, internet-based system that will replace the existing analog E-911 infrastructure to deliver a faster, more resilient system that accommodates modern forms of communication (e.g., voice, photos, videos, and text messages) and improves location and call routing accuracy,” Weinkauf said.

NextGen 911 will be based on Geographic Information Systems, or GIS, which can have errors such as address overlap. 

Most people who have used a global positioning system, or GPS, to find a location have been sent to the wrong place.

For instance, there are two Torreon Community Centers. One is in the Jemez Mountains in Sandoval County near Cuba and the other is in the Manzano Mountains in Torrance County near Mountainair. Up until recently, GPS would send travelers to the one in Sandoval County.

Wildfires and addressing woes

The 2022 wildfire season was rough with the Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon Fire that burned 341,735 acres in Mora County. This fire was deemed the largest wildfire in New Mexico history.

At about the same time, the McBride Fire came dangerously close to downtown Ruidoso, burning 6,159 acres.

Both fires began in April. Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon began during a prescribed burn that got out of hand when winds came up. The McBride Fire’s cause is still listed as under investigation.

“Over 10 percent of insurance claims in Mora County were denied because insurance companies could not verify their addresses (NM911 only detects errors in 5 percent of Mora County addresses),” Weinkauf said.

These rural addressing issues could be resolved by the NextGen 911 Program, Weinkauf said.

“I have talked to Tyler Fossett (NM911 GIS Coordinator) a couple of times about the Next Generation 911 update that he has been working on,” Lincoln County Manager Ira Pearson said. “It is supposed to help with the emergency responses to addresses. There is not a lot of information yet as he is still working on the program. This program is going to give emergency responders a more accurate location for the emergency.”

Ways that the rural addressing can be resolved include statewide addressing guidelines, state agencies helping local governments develop ordinances pertaining to how addresses are created, state agencies providing technical assistance and training to local GIS personnel and addressors. As well as developing partnerships between local governments, regional councils of government and third-party vendors while providing needed funding to extend local GIS and addressing capabilities and providing funding for equipment such as GPS devices, computer hardware GIS software and other GIS addressing resources, Weinkauf said.

The GIS budget in the E911 Program is about $600,000 while $11.8 million is used for the remainder of the E911 Program including capital projects, maintaining the system and network fees.

The approximate cost for the suggested updates at the state level is between $1.3 million and $3.6 million according to estimates provided by the E-911 Bureau’s handout to the Rural Economic Opportunities Task Force.