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November 1st, 2015
Text 911 now available in Indy

Republished from The Indianapolis Star: Text 911 now available in Indy, Olivia Lewis, olivia.lewis@indystar.com, 2:34 p.m. EDT October 23, 2015

Highlights

The Marion County sheriff’s 911 center is now equipped to serve AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless users who want to text 911 rather than call. Although representatives from the Sheriff’s Office lead by the motto “Call if you can, text if you must,” they find the additional service helpful to those seeking emergency care.

If you have to use text-to-911 messaging:

  • People should use the texting option for 911 only when calling is not an option.
  • The first text message should always include clear location information and the nature of the emergency.
  • Text abbreviations and slang should never be used.
  • People should only text 911 for emergency situations that require an immediate response for police, fire or medical assistance.

 


The 911 call was peculiar.

The woman ordered a pizza. The dispatcher asked if she knew she was calling 911. She said yes. The dispatcher then asked if she had an emergency. Again she said yes and asked how long it would take for the “pizza” to arrive. The dispatcher  assumed the woman was in a domestic violence situation and sent an officer to check on her.

The dispatcher’s story of the 911 call  went viral after appearing on the social media website Reddit last year and prompted discussions on what to do in an emergency situation when calling 911 isn’t an option.

Marion County now has a new option — text if you can’t call.

The Marion County sheriff’s 911 center is now equipped to serve AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless users who want to text 911 rather than call. Although representatives from the Sheriff’s Office lead by the motto “Call if you can, text if you must,” they find the additional service helpful to those seeking emergency care.

Central Indiana counties Boone, Hamilton, Hancock, Johnson and Shelby now all have text-to-911 service.

Marion County Sheriff’s Office Maj. Michael Hubbs said dispatchers also can text phone numbers from 911 callers who hang up before a dispatcher answers. Hubbs said by texting those numbers back, dispatchers can confirm whether emergency services are still needed.

The biggest advantage, he said, is that users can contact emergency services without raising suspicions, say a spouse who is involved in a domestic abuse situation.

“They could say. ‘I’m going to text for a ride,” he said. “And they can text 911.”

Susan Ferguson, executive director of Prevail in Hamilton County, said the text messaging service could help domestic violence victims if the assailant is still in the room. Prevail is a domestic violence prevention organization that aids victims.

Ferguson said victims have to make the decision for themselves whether to text because some abusers monitor phone use. Overall, though, she supports another option for people to get help.

“There’s no downside to having one more way to get ahold of help,” she said.

The FCC in 2014 required text providers to enable text-to-911 services by June of this year. When mobile users text emergency services they will receive an immediate response whether or not their area has text-to-911 capabilities. In Marion County now, when a person texts 911, a dispatcher should immediately text back.

But Hubbs said the new service doesn’t come without disadvantages.

He is worried people will use it even if they are able to call.

“When we receive a text message we would like to think that these are folks who have no other way of contacting us,” Hubbs said.

Hubbs said the texting service can also be slower if there are follow-up questions or if the people don’t know their exact location. He also said text messages can leave the condition of the person a bit ambiguous because a dispatcher can’t hear the caller.

Justin Mack contributed to this story. Call Star reporter Olivia Lewis at (317) 444-6126. Follow her on Twitter: @TheWrittenPeace


If you have to use text-to-911 messaging:

  • People should use the texting option for 911 only when calling is not an option.
  • The first text message should always include clear location information and the nature of the emergency.
  • Text abbreviations and slang should never be used.
  • People should only text 911 for emergency situations that require an immediate response for police, fire or medical assistance.

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