Texting coming to a 911 center near you

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — It sounds like a no-brainer: Many of us often communicate by texting, so why not during an emergency?

“I think it would be a pretty efficient way for someone in my generation really to communicate with someone in a quick way,” Hannah Laarman said as she walked down Monroe Center near Rosa Park Circle, her thumbs texting away. “That’s what we do. We like to text.”

Some major wireless providers are now set up to allow 911 texts, but software and other equipment upgrades still have to happen at local dispatch centers.

“It will probably be about this time next year to have at least our plan in place,” Grand Rapids Police Department Emergency Communications Director Karen Chadwick said.

Kent County doesn’t have a timeline for adding texting capabilities. Kalamazoo will likely implement a texting initiative in the next 12 to 24 months as part of a planned consolidated dispatch system. Ottawa County hopes to begin accepting texts by the fall.

Beyond the fact that practically an entire generation communicates by text, there are some obvious benefits to texting 911, like for the deaf and hard of hearing.

“Also for those individuals that find themselves in situations where they don’t want to be heard  by a suspect, or something like that, that they might be hiding during a crime in progress,” Chadwick said.

But there’s also a bit of a split between the texting generations and the people who run dispatch centers. The latter’s philosophy is to ‘Call when you can and text when you can’t.’

“We’re still going to want that phone call if it’s at all possible. It’s a lot faster. It’s more accurate,” Chadwick said.

Dispatchers argue texting can be cumbersome and could create critical delays in getting the information a dispatcher needs in an emergency.

“Also, sometimes we’ll hear background noises that are helpful to us,” Chadwick said. “We might hear gunshots or something in the background and if you’re texting, we’re not going to get  that critical information.”

But for many, texting is simply the way they talk.

“I’ve been texting for a while now, so I think texting is just as quick as calling for me,” Laarman said.

The Federal Communications Commission has put out some consumer guidelines for texting 911.



FCC on Text-to-911

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