Text to 911 becoming a national reality

By D. C. Moody

July 3, 2014

PICKENS — Emerging technology is changing the landscape of everyday life, including how emergency services are capable of being summoned, changing on the horizon with the ability to text to 911 on the horizon nationwide.

The impact of text to 911 is yet to be determined but as the technology is rolled out to law enforcement and first responders around the nation, there is still a sense of the possibilities which will be made available to those in emergency services.

“As a county we have begun to discuss the different forms available and what would be best for our area in general,” said Scott Krein, director of Emergency Management and Rescue Chief for Oconee County. “We do know we are going to implement text to 911 but the big question is the cost and what services are available based on that.”

Oconee County experienced a 911 emergency of its own June 23, losing all landline access and calls originating from landlines not reaching the county’s 911 center. Although this issue was related to a landline issue with AT&T and cellular service was unaffected, text to 911 could have been one solution to the problem.

“Cellular service to our 911 center wasn’t interrupted in any way, the issue being solely on landline based calls,” Krein said. “The only issue was how do we get around the loss of landlines and our suggestion was to find someone who was in possession of a cell, even if you had to go to a neighbor’s home. In this instance cellular technology was a blessing.”

How would adding the ability to text to 911 change the landscape of emergency services? There are at least two ways, according to Krein.

“The text itself would be sent directly to the monitor of one of the 911 operators and this would work well, especially for someone with a disability such as the hearing impaired,” Krein explained. “But even more so, in a situation where someone is possibly trapped or in a dangerous situation and can’t talk to the operator, this would be a big benefit.”

Krein took the thought a step further.

“Like I said, we’re still researching the technology for Oconee County, but if images are possible as well via text to 911, that would be extremely important for law enforcement,” he said. “Imagine a crime in process reported by text with a photo of the perpetrator attached. Law enforcement would have an advantage as they respond to the call including more information to work with possibly. The cost is what will be the determining factor for not only us in Oconee, but every 911 center. It’s going to depend on what is affordable and the technology associated with it.”

Krein did state Oconee County is actively researching their options concerning text to 911 technology but also stated there was not a set timetable for a decision at this point.