WESLACO, RGV – On occasion, emergency calls from the Rio Grande Valley are routed to the response centers in Mexico and some calls from Mexico are received in the Valley.

Robert Gonzalez, director of the Texas Commission on State Emergency Communications, said the 9-1-1 International Border Coalition (IBC) meets annually to try to discuss and identify issues affecting the 9-1-1 services. He said the IBC met recently in Laredo.

The problem the group identified is that the RGV emergency call centers are receiving 9-1-1 calls from Mexico and some calls from the Valley are routed to Mexico.

“[This] is a recurring problem that is taking place today, yesterday and honestly, will continue tomorrow,” Gonzalez said. “But if we are able to now face the problem head on, we will be able to minimize the calls and at the same time, even for those calls that get through to the wrong place, we will be able to have the … standard operating procedures in place to help remedy [the issue] in a very efficient manner.”

Sergio Castro, the 9-1-1 director of the Lower Rio Grande Development Council (LRGVDC) said for the past nine years, Mexico has been having what he calls an international 9-1-1 conference because they became an affiliate chapter of the National Emergency Number Association in the United States. As of Jan. 1, 2016, the country of Mexico changed their emergency number to 9-1-1 which is one reason why the issue is occurring.

“Throughout the years we’ve been providing the support, trainings … and everything to try to get them to this point,” Castro said. “As of Jan. 1, 2016 the federal government of Mexico has requested that from their states and now they have about two years to implement the whole process.”

Before 9-1-1, Mexico used emergency numbers such as 0-6-6 and 0-8-0. Gonzalez said throughout the country, Mexico suffers from receiving approximately 90 percent of non-emergency, or abusive calls. For the RGV, Gonzalez said the norm may be about 10 to 15 percent as a result of public education.

“In Mexico, it’s not quite like that. They don’t have necessarily a public education infrastructure for their 9-1-1 efforts. They don’t necessarily have confidence within their own criminal justice system ranging from the police to even judicial system,” Gonzalez said. “They have their doubts, their concerns and they don’t even want to pick up the phone to dial. In some cases where they are able to build up the confidence to call, they have a different phone number to call that voids any information that can identify them so that it’s basically an anonymous call to the 9-1-1 center because they fear that something can happen to them if they report something. So it’s a very different system that’s operating over there.”

Stephen Tice, the upcoming 9-1-1 program director and homeland security director for the Middle Rio Grande Valley Development Council, has goals to improve communication and technology across the border. Previously, Tice was the assistant 9-1-1 director of LRGVDC and intends to use the same strategy to make improvements.

“A lot of what we did in [LRGVDC] which I participated as part of staff down here during the last 10 years, we’re needing to do up in my region,” Tice said. “So, the exact game plan of bringing in the robust networking techonology, the reliable systems and the interaction where our procedures are improved and then [point that all out to get] everybody on the same page. [We’d also like to keep] the lags in updates as near as possible–[this will] allow us to get the responders on site with as little delay and as little confusion as possible.”

IBC is a group among the representatives of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California that share the same issue of emergency calls being routed to the wrong country. Castro said the next meeting will be in El Paso in either September or October of this year.

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying this story shows three 9-1-1 emergency coordination leaders at a meeting of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council. From left to right: Stephen Tice, upcoming 9-1-1 program director and homeland security director for the Middle Rio Grande Valley Development Council, Robert Gonzalez, director of the commission on state emergency communications, and Sergio Castro, the 9-1-1 director of the Lower Rio Grande Development Council. (Photo: RGG/Steve Taylor)