9-1-1 Texting Comes to Indiana
May 15--GOSHEN -- If you text it, they will come.
That's the goal of the new 9-1-1 text messaging service initiated Tuesday across Indiana.
People in need of emergency services and who have a Verizon cellular phone contract can now send a text message to emergency dispatchers to ask for help. But those dispatchers caution that a text message should be the last option.
"Calling is still more efficient," said Egbert Dijkstra, director of Elkhart County Public Safety Communications.
Dijkstra and his staff spent an hour Wednesday afternoon showing local reporters how the new system operates. He said when someone texts 9-1-1 the message comes into the 9-1-1 center as a call. The dispatcher then answers the call and the message is displayed on a computer terminal. The dispatcher can then begin texting with the sender.
Dijkstra said the service is intended to help the deaf, who have been using a call relay service to date, and for victims of crimes that require a quiet contact with dispatchers, such as someone who is kidnapped or a victim of an active home invasion.
Elkhart and Kosciusko county dispatch centers were part of a pilot program for texting last year. How many texts were received in Elkhart County?
"Zero," Dijkstra said while making a zero with his thumb and forefinger, "because nobody was aware of it."
The Indiana 9-1-1 Board implemented the texting service statewide for county 9-1-1 centers. Some municipalities, including Elkhart, operate their own 9-1-1 centers and do not yet have 9-1-1 texting capabilities, Dijkstra said.
He also said the Federal Communications Commission is mandating phone companies nationwide implement the service by the end of the year.
Verizon Wireless worked with TeleCommunication Systems and INdigital telecom in Fort Wayne to develop the system, according to Dijkstra, and T-Mobile, Sprint and AT&T have committed to provide the service as well.
The effectiveness of 9-1-1 texting is untried.
"As far as I know, we (Indiana) are the first in the nation," Dijkstra said. "Nobody has experience with it."
Elkhart County dispatchers have for some time been able to send text messages to cell phone users. According to Rebecca Schoetzow, a trainer with the dispatch center, dispatchers will send a text message to a cell phone if a conversation is cut off.
Todd Anderson, assistant director of the center, said sometimes the person receiving such a message think their friends are pranking them.
Dispatchers can also track a cell phone user's location. When someone calls from a phone connected to a land line, the location of the caller is displayed immediately and an aerial image of the property is also displayed, according to Schoetzow.
When calls come in from cell phones, general location is initially determined by tracking the call through cellular towers, she said. In life and death situations, dispatchers can "ping" a cell phone to determine the exact location of a caller.
Tracking text messaging is less precise. A texter's phone number is displayed on the center's computers, and from that dispatchers can determine who owns the phone. From that information they can begin working to determine the location of the call by narrowing the search to cellular towers and by pinging the phone if needed.
Asked if he thinks the new service will catch on, Anderson said, "I think by (Thursday) we will be getting some."
Advice for 9-1-1 texters --Make sure the address of where responders are needed and the nature of the call are included in the first text. --Only text 9-1-1 when calling is not an option. --Calling is instantaneous and texters are warned that it may take slightly longer to dispatch responders from a text message because messages travel slower than phone calls and dispatchers have to exchange texts with the person in need to obtain more information. --Texters may be outside the range of a cellular tower and the message may not reach a dispatch center. --Verizon Wireless users should remove "usage controls" to ensure full text to 911 is enabled. --Don't push the "emergency" button on smartphones if a text is desired, as that is a phone service. --Don't use texting abreviations.
Copyright 2014 - Goshen News, Ind.