PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — What happened at Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook brought into the nation’s spotlight the need to be able to text a 911 call center for help.
“When those people were in dire situations, they can’t make a call. They don’t want to make a sound,” says Allegheny County Chief Executive Rich Fitzgerald. “If they are hiding in a closet or under a desk, they were unable to text law enforcement to let them know what was going on, now they would be able to do that.”
At least they would if they are Verizon customers in Allegheny County.
Recently, the FCC lifted its prohibition on using text messaging to contact 911 and Allegheny County quickly moved to institute the service.
“This texting option, which is available immediately by using 911 as the text address, is geared towards the hearing and speech impaired,” says Allegheny County Emergency Services Chief Alvin Henderson.
But it is also available to anyone who finds themselves in a situation where they need help, and for safety reasons, cannot speak with the emergency call taker.
“Voice calls to our 911 center are still the most efficient means to communicate with our 911 center,” Henderson says. “Those using the new texting ability to contact 911 should provide the location information and the nature of the emergency in the first text to 911.”
That enables the call taker to respond by text while simultaneously get first responders on the way.
If the dispatch center receives a 911 text with no message and no response, the county will handle it like a 911 call hang-up.
Through the system’s computers and cell towers, Chief Henderson says the county can narrow down the location of the call to, “within 300 yards. So, imagine three football fields length where that call is originating from.”
While the texting service is available now, it is only for Verizon customers, but the county is hoping the other carriers will come online soon.
County Executive Rich Fitzgerald joined the KDKA Morning News with Larry Richert and John Shumway to discuss the new 911 texting system.
“It’s just one more communication tool,” Fitzgerald says.
He also said he thinks other phone carriers will provide the service in the future.
While you are now able text an emergency to 911, Fitzgerald says, “Calling and talking is still a much quicker and a much better way to communicate.”
He adds when you do text to, “use regular English language and be as clear and concise as you can so the 911 [operator] can dispatch the emergency vehicle [quickly].”