(BEDFORD) - Cell phone carriers Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint will make texting to 911 via cell phone a possibility.
The program is called Next Generation 911. Users would simply address a text to 911, then type a message describing the emergency. As of Friday, Lawrence County's system was not functioning.
"There was a glitch at the state level and they were working on the problem," says Sheriff Sam Craig. "The system was still not fixed this morning (Monday) but they have assured us they are working on the problem."
But Craig says when the system is functioning to would be especially helpful, for example - during a home break-in when the victim is hiding and unable to speak.
Each county must individually sign up for the Next Generation 911 program, and many aren't on board yet - in many areas calling 911 is still the only option.
Text message abbreviations or slang should never be used so the dialogue is as clear as possible.
According to Jeff Schemmer, Bloomington Police Department communications manager, after the emergency dispatcher receives a 911 text, they will attempt to engage in a text conversation to procure as much information as possible.
Indianapolis Public Safety Center Chief Tim Baughman has concerns with the new technology.
For example, when someone calls 911, they relay all necessary information to the dispatcher in a short amount of time, texting this information would take longer.
Another concern is that, the system has no way of knowing from where the text originated. Currently 911 calls appear on a screen giving an address.
"When a call comes through the old E911 system, we know where they're calling from, it comes up on the screen automatically," Baughman said. "If you come through text without some sort of application on the front end, we won't know their location, so that's something that's going to have to be shared and that'll be time consuming."
The Monroe County Dispatch Center in Bloomington recently installed the text-to-911 software on its computers, and it is currently in the process of training staff to use it. The text-to-911 service is currently unavailable for Indiana residents living in Monroe County.
"We need to familiarize ourselves with the software and be efficient using that software before going live," Schemmer says.
He anticipates Monroe County residents being able to utilize the service within the next month. Until then, if someone dials 911 by text message, he or she will receive a
kickback message informing them that the feature isn't available in their area.
"Ideally, we want to talk to somebody when there is an emergency going on," he said. "There is a lot of information we need to obtain, and it's quicker and a little bit more efficient by voice."
The Monroe County Dispatch Center answers 911 calls for everyone in the county except the IU campus, which has its own dispatch center.
IU students will not have access to the text-to-911 service until the Monroe County Dispatch text-to-911 service is operational. All wireless 911 calls and text messages go directly to Monroe County Central Dispatch. According to Lt. Craig Munroe, if a call or text message originates from campus, central dispatch will forward the information directly to the IU Police Department.
"We figure we'll be operational by the 2014 fall semester," he says. "That's what we're shooting for."
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