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Sioux City, Iowa, Area Deploys Text-to-911 for Emergency Calls

There are many benefits to having the texting feature. One communications center manager said a good example was by a child who recently used texting, as the safest method in the moment, to report a domestic disturbance.

by Sioux City Journal, Iowa / December 5, 2019

(TNS) — Broadening the ways to contact and get help from public safety personnel, technology is now in place in the Sioux City metro area for people to send text messages to reach emergency communications workers.

Text-to-911 capabilities are now in place at the Woodbury County Communications Center, which connects people to fire, police and sheriff's offices. A host of emergency officials in a Wednesday press conference announced the launch of text-to-911, saying it will be a good option for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, have speech impairments or are in a dicey situation in which calling by voice to 911 is not possible or dangerous.

"There are a lot of benefits," South Sioux City Police Chief Ed Mahon said.

Communications center manager Wendy Hess said one good example of recent use was by a child who used texting, as the safest method in the moment, to report a domestic disturbance.

"It is literally like texting a friend," Hess said.

Carol Hestbech, of Sioux City, said she was aware of the technology being in place in such cities as Des Moines and Minneapolis, and she is glad it is now available in Sioux City.

"I know my speech is not that good, and I rely on texts," Hestbech said.

Hess said a series of texts to the comm center will invariably be slower to report details of the incident, so, "Call when you can, text when you can't."

She said the texting will mean details such as the location, the incident that is occurring and who is involved will be aired in a series of texted questions and replies, so that help can be sent.

"We may ask them, 'Can you make a call?' " Hess said.

People are asked not to send practice text-to-911 texts, so as not to overload the system.

The capability is present in Woodbury County and Dakota County in Nebraska, but not Union County in South Dakota. Hess said Union may be added later, if some technology improvements happen in South Dakota.

Text-to-911 first came to Iowa some years ago as a pilot program in Black Hawk County, which has Waterloo and Cedar Falls as metro areas, and has since spread in many other areas of the state. Hess said area officials boosted their efforts to implement text-to-911 as this year went on.

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