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9-1-1 and texting

Can you text your 9-1-1 call?

Published: Monday, June 9, 2014 4:10 p.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, June 9, 2014 4:13 p.m. CDT

PRINCETON — Texting an emergency 9-1-1 call to the local BuEComm office is not an available option for Bureau County residents, according to Bureau County BuEComm Director Diana Stiles.

On Monday, Stiles said there have been some recent changes with phone companies, and the four largest wireless telephone companies, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon, have now made texting to 9-1-1 available in areas where the local 9-1-1 center is prepared to receive the texts. It’s important for Bureau County residents to know that texting to 9-1-1 is not an available service for them, she said.

However, if someone does attempt to text 9-1-1 locally, the person will receive an immediate “bounce-back” message that text-to-911 is not available, and the person should contact emergency services by another means, such as by making a voice call or by using telecommunications relay services, which is available for consumers who are deaf, hard of hearing or have a speech disability, Stiles said.

Though 9-1-1 centers across the country are working toward becoming technically able to accept texting and images, the price to update phone systems and equipment is extremely costly, Stiles said. For Bureau County, that cost could be $1 million plus, she said.

In looking at a potential texting capability, one option would be to have one designated computer and one employee designated around the clock for that computer, Stiles said. Another option would be to upgrade the existing computer system so a text message screen pops up on the phone message screen.

Bureau County is part of Region 3 of the Illinois National Emergency Number Association (INENA), which includes several counties, Stiles said. Region 3 members are meeting regularly to look at its options, including the possibility of regional texting centers. The consensus across the board at the state level is that texting 9-1-1 capability could be mandated some time down the line, but for now, the needed funding on the federal and state level is the problem, she said.

Looking at the advantage of a text-to-9-1-1 service, Stiles said there could be those dangerous situations in which a person could be hiding from someone and not wanting to be heard by making a voice call. In those cases, BuEComm does have a procedure in place to help people making those calls by having them push buttons on the phone instead of talking. Also, texting could also be helpful for people who are deaf, hard of hearing or have speech disabilities, she said.

However, even if texting is an available option, it’s still a better for people to make that 9-1-1 telephone call if they can do so safely, since the operator can more quickly ask questions and get needed information from the caller, Stiles said.

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