By Will E Sanders
MIAMI COUNTY — Today, if a Miami County resident sends a text message to 911, the following message appears approximately 25 seconds later: “For emergency only. CALL 911. Public Safety in this area does not support text service at this time.”
Last month, the Federal Communications Commission required that all four major cell phone carriers, Verizon, Sprint, AT&T and T-Mobile phones to have the ability to send a text message to 911, allowing users to communicate with an emergency dispatcher as if they were on a phone call.
Yet, the technology to text 911 in Miami County could take more than a year to implement, according to Miami County Communication Center Director Jeff Busch.
“In about a year or year-and-a-half, we will be close to be up and running,” Busch said. “If you try to text 911 on your phone now, service is not available, and the message will direct you to call 911.”
Busch said the funding to purchase the equipment to take text message emergency is in place, thanks to the federal fees tacked on to the consumer’s cell phone bill each month.
The state of Ohio is still in the process of setting up its communication software to make it possible to receive and then relay the 911 text messages to county dispatch centers like Miami County.
Busch said while there are numerous situations that 911 text messages can be beneficial, the dispatch center will always prefer to take phone calls to glean information from the reporting party.
“We’ll always prefer a telephone call over a 911 text message,” Busch said.
For hearing impaired and handicapped individuals, 911 text messages would greatly benefit their emergency needs, Busch said. Other examples Busch said would be dangerous situations such as an intruder in a home. The reporting party could text message in a quiet manner rather than make noise with a 911 phone call to limit the dangerous situation.
Busch said protocol and standards are still being set up including how text messages are stored for records as well as refining the process to determine the location of the person who send the 911 text message.
One challenge is the location of the cell phone towers and transferring the message to the correct agency in a timely manner. Busch said when the dispatch center receives a phone call for an emergency that is supposed to go to Montgomery County for service, they can transfer the call easily.
All in all, Miami County Communication will always prefer a phone call versus a text message in emergency situations.
“We can hear background noise, we can ask specific questions in a much more rapid fashion to send to our first responders,” Busch said.
Busch said once the technology is available at the state level, Miami County most likely will wait and see what other county agencies encounter as they implement the 911 text message system.
“We’ll want to see what challenges other agencies are experiencing first and then move forward,” Busch said.
Miami County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Dave Duchak said more communication to assist the citizens of Miami County is a good thing - as long as they are communicating in a safe manner.
“I think anytime you can have more communication it’s always a good thing,” Duchak said. “My only concern would be that if people would be driving and witness a crash that they would be texting while they are driving to report it.”
Duchak said policies and protocol would have to be in place, especially in regards to responding to a text message 911 emergency.
“Overall I always think it’s a good thing when you have more ways to communicate with the public. Texting is utilized a lot these days, just as long as it’s done in a safe manner,” Duchak said.
When Miami County Communication Center eventually adds 911 text technology, Duchak said he would like a public education plan to be in place for people to use text 911 effectively.
“There’s going to have to be some education to the public. If you have access to your phone and are taking time to text, we’d like to know what is prohibiting you from calling in so when we respond, we know what we are dealing with,” Duchak said.
Though unfamiliar with how state-of-the-art the technology is with texting, Piqua Chief of Police Bruce Jamison said in general he is in support of a 911 system that stays up to date with the trends of society.
“I am in favor of a 911 system keeping up with whatever the communication techniques of the moment are,” Jamison said. “But like anything else, I am very cognizant of the fact we have to look at the costs and benefits of being able to work it into our 911 system.”
In addition, Jamison also added that funding would need to be made available, and that if it took a lot of funding to put such a system in place, he would be more in favor of having additional police officers.
“Other than funding, I’m comfortable with it if it would make things safe,” he said.
For someone who is hearing impaired like Ashley Gilmore, the idea of being able to text 911 instead of calling seems beneficial, and for some crucial in the event of an emergency.
Gilmore, who recently graduated from the Upper Valley Career Center, said she not only thinks texting to 911 capabilities is a good idea, she also wants that to happen.
“It is great for the hearing impaired to contact 911 without worrying about understanding the operator,” she said. “It is also perfect for mute people, too.”
Gilmore, of Piqua, has overcome many challenges in her life due to her hearing disability, and she added being able to text rather than speak to an emergency dispatcher would be much easier for her and others with hearing deficiencies.
“Every day I struggle with worrying about something happening that will cause me to contact 911 so the 911 text message is a great source for the hearing impaired and mute,” Gilmore said. “I support it.”
A small sampling of responses from newspaper readers on our newspaper’s social networking accounts revealed the text to 911 technology is something some people are in favor of. Most people agreed that the service could be useful, especially in serious situations where a person might be unable to talk or it is not safe to talk.
“From a victim of domestic violence, it would definitely be beneficial to be able to send a quick text than to be on the phone talking with the chance of being caught,” said Amber Schaffer, a Lockington resident.
Others said it would allow for a more discreet way of getting a hold of emergency services and could come in handy.
Will E Sanders may be reached at 773-2721 or on Twitter @TheDailyCall.
Melanie Yingst can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 552-2204 or follow her on Twitter @TroyDailyNews.