911 texting coming to a county near you

Are you more of a texter than a talker?

Many Indiana 911 dispatch centers are gearing up to take texts.

“If we had a break-in and they were hiding in the closet and they didn’t want to talk and alert whoever was breaking into the house that could be helpful that they could just text back and forth with us,” said Elkhart County Public Safety Communications Training Supervisor Rebecca Schoetzow.

The preference is still that you call 911 and talk directly with a dispatcher. The text message service is an acknowledgement that sometimes that’s not possible or practical.

“The hearing and speech impaired community, it’s a large advantage and a big advantage for them. I think that’s going to be very good, it’s a level playing field for them. They can access 911 directly and I think that’s good,” said Egbert Dijkstra, Director of Elkhart County Public Safety Communications. “People that are in certain situations, say you’re in a home invasion, a kidnapping, where you should not be using voice to call 911 to stay safe, you can now text 911.”

While the goal is to be able to take a text from anyone in trouble, the progress will be made one county and one carrier at a time.
“At this point Verizon Wireless has the service, Sprint and T-mobile are supposed to come on board shortly and then AT&T should be coming on after that,” said Dijkstra.

By the end of 2014, the federal government will require all cell phone carriers to offer 911 texting.

Callers simply have to text to “911.”

While the goal was to have all county dispatch centers in the State of Indiana text-ready by today that did not happen.

St. Joseph and Marshall Counties are still tweaking their systems, while Elkhart and Kosciusko Counties can take texts. Berrien County hopes to accommodate texting at its dispatch center in about six months.

“It's just basically the way technology is moving, I mean everybody has cell phones anymore and most of our 911 calls used to come from land lines. It is about 75 percent I think come from cell phones now,” said Schoetzow.

Schoetzow did point out one big difference between calling 911 and texting 911: Texting does not provide specific information on the location of the caller. Texting does show the cell tower that is being used, but not GPS information about a specific address.

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