Presidio moves to update 911 addresses, as current system stalls emergency response

PRESIDIO — At last week’s Presidio City Council meeting, representatives from the Rio Grande Council of Governments (RIOCOG) attended virtually and in person to discuss the process of updating the city’s 911 address system. Presidio doesn’t have standardized block numbers or street names, resulting in a lot of home delivery mishaps and — more seriously — problems for first responders trying to find the source of an emergency call. 

Council last discussed the issue back in July, when the project was first announced. Presidio County has pushed improvements to its 911 county dispatch system over the past few years — the county-wide reverse 911 system, which can text residents in case of an emergency, is widely regarded as state-of-the-art, and the city of Marfa has already completed the process of standardizing and updating home addresses. 

RIOCOG’s Jesus Hermosillo — who also serves as a Presidio first responder — gave a brief presentation on some of the issues facing the city’s address system. Regional RIOCOG reps wanted input from folks in Presidio about how they wanted to approach the project. “Most of these problems have existed for years, if not decades,” Hermosillo said. 

There are quite a few issues Presidio will have to navigate creatively: there’s no standardized system for declaring a road a “street” or an “avenue,” which in many cities is defined by whether the route runs east to west or north to south. Some streets have multiple names — Rosedale Avenue starts on the west side of town as an avenue, then becomes a street through the heart of the city and on the east side, a drive. 

Some streets are misspelled — Puerto Rico Street becomes Porto Rico street behind Poncho’s Pizza. First Street and 1st Street are on opposite sides of town. There are several Gonzales streets, none of which are connected. “As it stands, there is no standardization within city limits — we have a random array of street names,” Hermosillo said. 

To make matters worse, city and county residents don’t have a reliable way of looking up what their address should be — property addresses are inconsistently reported to the County Appraisal District, whose maps differ from Google Maps or homeowners’ plat maps. The county’s old maps of Presidio, labeled with as many proper street names as possible, are no longer serviceable — they were stored by an outside contractor on a now inaccessibly outdated computer. 

Hermosillo pointed out that all of these problems converge into a major public health risk. He recounted a recent incident trying to respond to the scene of a fire — the person who called 911 could only describe the scene of the emergency by the name of the arroyo that runs behind it. Even for Presidio’s homegrown first-responders, correctly identifying an address can drag out the time needed to reach people in life-threatening situations. 

Kayse Muratori, RIOCOG’s new 911/GIS rep for the Big Bend area, said she had also heard horror stories. “Since I’ve been in this office, I’ve already heard of four separate stories of an ambulance not being able to find a home,” she said. “That’s really what started this process. The whole goal is that 911 can find people.” 

A longer-term problem is that the United States Census can’t find or count people without proper addresses. The federal government apportions funding based on census information, so an undercount can result in needy communities like Presidio not getting the resources they need. 

After the 2020 Census, there were numerous conversations within Presidio city government about whether or not Presidio had been undercounted. “We were only discussing, ‘Why was there an undercount? Were we being discriminated against?” Hermosillo recalled. “We can’t control people who don’t want to answer the door, but one of the things we can control is having the correct address and street names so that the census workers can find people.” 

RIOCOG Regional Director Marisa Quintanilla explained that she wanted the project to be Presidio-led because it did come with a few hassles for residents. When the new addresses roll out, Presidians will have to update their accounts and paperwork accordingly. “Some of these residents report having three addresses,” she said. “They’re going to have to change everything that comes to their house — the electric bill, the water bill, the Amazon packages.” 

Councilmember Arian Velázquez-Ornelas thought that the most sensible way to spread the word would be through a series of town hall meetings rather than having city employees canvass everyone door-to-door. Mayor John Ferguson agreed. “Everything that you’re recommending, it sounds sensible — it’s the direction we need to go.” 

In a related step toward standardizing the city’s street names, Presidio City Council formally signed off on an ordinance that had been incompletely filed over a decade ago. That ordinance changed certain street names to honor the city’s veterans — a process that has not been uniformly completed, but could make the 911 addressing project easier. 

The veterans who will be honored are as follows: Fernando Daly for his service in WWI; Tomas Ornelas, Calixtro Quiroz, Juan Quiroz, Alfredo Baeza, Ishmael Spencer, Julian Tavarez, Francisco Spencer, Ishmael Madrid, Jose Rodriguez, Henry Daly, Edmundo Nieto, Simon Gonzales and Ralph England for their service in World War II; Manuel Ornelas and Ernesto Madrid for their service in Vietnam.