Text-2-911 adds tool to emergency response

Daily Journal

Next week, the county will launch Text-2-911 service, allowing people to send a message to emergency dispatchers instead of having to call. This is new technology, and Indiana is one of the few states that offer it.

You text 911 like you would a regular number, and Text-2-911 connects to a 911 dispatch center utilizing text messaging instead of the traditional voice call. Routing is based on the cell tower it hits off. The message is then displayed on a screen at a call taker’s position inside the 911 Center.

The dispatcher can then message back and forth with the caller.

The service will be of greatest value in emergencies involving the hearing impaired and/or those who are unable to speak. Or call might involve domestic violence when a voice call can’t be placed without endangering the caller; during a robbery when a voice call would endanger the caller; or in a situation where the caller doesn’t want the suspect to know he has contacted 911 or is unable to talk.

There are some drawbacks of texting 911. It takes time to communicate back and forth and the amount of information that can be gained quickly is limited. In addition, a dispatcher can’t hear background noise or voice inflection, which could help determine what is going on in an emergency.

County 911 director Mike Watkins said emergency texters should prioritize the information they send, starting with location, nature of the emergency and the texter’s name.

Texting also could be helpful at disaster scenes. For example, an explosion or house fire can be noisy, making it difficult for dispatchers to hear what callers are saying. Texts would be clear and specific. In the future, people also could text photos to dispatchers, such as if they came upon a serious accident on the highway.

While a voice phone call to 911 will remain the quickest way to reach emergency responders, the ability to text that message if needed fills a gap.

In matters of public safety, there’s no such thing as having too many emergency notification measures. For some users and in some situations, the ability to text to 911 is the best way to reach the emergency communications network.

At issue

There are some instances when a voice call to 911 is impossible or unwise.

Our point

The county’s Text-2-911 system fills a vital emergency services gap.