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Members of the public can now report local emergencies via text
Jerry Del Valle, Summit County 911 Center: 970-668-4098
SUMMIT COUNTY – The Summit County 911 Center launched text-to-911 capabilities on Sept. 4, enabling members of the public to report emergencies and communicate with 911 dispatchers via text from mobile devices.
"Text to 911 is a great tool to have in our public safety toolbox," County Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier said. "For situations in which it's not possible or safe to call 911, this service could be a life saver."
Text to 911 is a valuable alternative to voice calls for those with speech or hearing impairments, in areas where voice connectivity is unavailable and in dangerous situations where making a phone call could jeopardize the caller's safety.
To use the new service, just open the texting application on a mobile device, enter "911" in the "To" field, type a message describing the emergency, and send. A 911 dispatcher will receive the message at his or her console and respond via text. The dispatcher and the reporting party will be able to text back and forth to assess the situation and deploy the appropriate emergency personnel and resources.
If a disruption in Internet service causes the text-to-911 system to be unavailable, a sender will receive an automated text notification that his or her message cannot be delivered. Emergency communications systems cannot yet receive photos or videos via text, but the Summit County 911 Center will implement those functionalities as they become available.
The Summit County 911 Center recommends that people use text-to-911 service only when it's not possible or safe to make a phone call. Dispatchers automatically receive a caller's location information from a phone call, but not from a text.
"The rule of thumb is, 'Call if you can. Text if you must,'" said Summit County 911 Center Director Jerry Del Valle. "If a phone call is possible, it helps us get more information about your location, and it allows the dispatcher to gather information from you more quickly. But if you're in a circumstance where it's impossible to make a phone call, or it would put you in danger, use text to 911."
Text to 911 is the latest in a series of technological upgrades implemented at the Summit County 911 Center this year. Earlier this summer, the center installed a $1.2-million computer aided dispatch (CAD) system, which increases the efficiency with which emergency response resources are deployed to local incidents. The CAD system uses GPS to track the real-time location of each emergency responder and dispatch the closest available unit to an emergency.
"Under the previous system, we dispatched units from the closest station. But our new system is able to see our vehicles and responders in a more granular fashion, so we're able to be far more efficient and flexible, which ultimately results in tangible reductions in response times. This system brings us into the next generation of public safety," Del Valle said.
The implementation of the new CAD system entailed more than a year of planning, installation, testing and training. The 911 Center staff invested significant effort into learning the new software in order to maximize its functionality and take advantage of all of the system's capabilities.
"I want to extend our deep thanks to all of the 911 dispatchers," Commissioner Stiegelmeier said. "When you have a high-pressure 24-7 operation, it's not easy to carve out time to train on a completely new, sophisticated system that's at the heart of your job. The Buffalo Fire ignited shortly after the CAD system went live, and it's a testament to the dedication and professionalism of the 911 staff that they were firing on all cylinders during a huge incident like that."
Emergency communications technology at the Summit County 911 Center will continue to be enhanced and upgraded over the course of the next several years, improving the speed and effectiveness with which it answers 911 calls and activates the appropriate public safety resources. The forthcoming upgrades will also improve dispatchers' ability to facilitate communication among responders during major incidents. Recent and future technological improvements at the 911 Center are funded through the Safety First Fund, approved by Summit County voters in November 2014.