3 Benefits of Text-to-911

Voice calls will always be preferred, but because there is a legitimate need for a secondary method, texting — which is widely accepted and used — is quickly becoming a necessity.

by Anita Reding, McClatchy News Service / June 2, 2014

Although there are many decisions that need to be made, Muskogee County, Okla., could have the capability to provide Text-to-911 service in about a year, Darryl Maggard said.

Voice calls will always be preferred, but because there is a legitimate need for a secondary method, texting — which is widely accepted and used — “has become a necessity as well,” said Maggard, the coordinator for Muskogee City-County E911.

“It just gives the public another way to contact us should voice communications not be working,” he said.

Text-to-911 offers positives and negatives for callers and emergency personnel, Maggard said.

Benefits of Text-to-911 include:

  1. Hearing and speech impaired individuals benefit now from TDD (Telecommunications Device for the Deaf), but would also benefit from Text-to-911.
  2. During a major weather event, the voice pathways for cell phones can become jammed, but oftentimes texts can get through.
  3. In some situations an individual is unable to talk but could send a text.

Negatives include the extra time involved in texting back and forth to receive information. The dispatcher also can benefit from hearing background noise and the urgency in the caller’s voice during a call, Maggard said.

On May 15, Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint began offering the connectivity service. Text-to-911 services are available in 14 states. Oklahoma is not one of them.

Although technology is available for Text-to-911, Maggard sees it quickly evolving to support multimedia systems for 911 services, including pictures and videos.

Maggard believes that Muskogee will be offering the service or will be close to it within a year.

“If we don’t have it deployed, we will certainly have a clear path of our deployment plan,” Maggard said. “I am going to work on that at a really steady pace.”

Maggard said he will explore the options of Text-to-911, become knowledgeable about the technology and present it to Muskogee’s 911 board members, who will decide whether to implement Text-to-911 in Muskogee County.

Muskogee’s 911 system has the capability to receive text, but it needs the connectivity, which must be provided by a government-created network or by leasing a commercially available network, Maggard said.

That connectivity will cost money, he added.

Maggard is planning to attend conferences this summer where the companies that write the standards for Text-to-911 and provide the services will be under one roof.

Maggard said that during those conferences he should be able to get the answers needed to proceed.

Because Muskogee’s 911 system already has the capability to receive texts, “it puts us ahead of a lot of the other agencies,” he said.

“I sure would like for Muskogee to be the first in the state,” he said.

©2014 the Muskogee Phoenix (Muskogee, Okla.)