Text 911: Emergency help a tap away with new service

Calling for emergency services in Central Texas is now a finger tap away.

Last week, officials with the Capital Area Coalition of Governments (CAPCOG) unveiled its region-wide Text to 911 service.

Text to 911 is the ability to send a text message to a local 911 call center. The service is intended to be beneficial for those who are hard of hearing and/or speech-impaired. The service can also be used for residents if it’s unsafe to call 911 or it is not possible.

Examples would be in the event of a threat, illness or medical condition that prevents a person from calling 911, or if the person has poor reception and can only send text messages.

CAPCOG, which services a 13-county area in Central Texas including Hays, deployed its system after successfully testing that the region’s 31 911 dispatch centers could reliably receive and respond to text messages.

The service is activated on four major cell phone providers, Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile, in the Central Texas area.

Gregg Obuch, CAPCOG’s emergency communications director, said in a statement the 911 service is a “great addition” to emergency response.

However, limitations in the service have officials urging residents to continue calling 911, and only use the texting service as a last resort.

According to a CAPCOG press release, providers do not guarantee a message will be delivered. Messages can also take longer to receiver or can be delivered out of order. The only way to know if a text has been received by dispatch is if a response is given back.

Messages are also only available in English at this time.

Kyle Taylor, Kyle Fire Department Chief, said the 911 text service could be beneficial during the event of a natural disaster, when phone lines could be cut.

The service can also be beneficial in rural areas of Hays County.

“Generally, text works better because it keeps trying, where a phone can sometimes disconnect,” Taylor said. “We have a few areas in town where cell service isn’t perfect.”

One area where CAPCOG’s service could be an asset is within Emergency Service District 6, which services a 245 square mile area in Dripping Springs and Driftwood.

Scott Collard, ESD No. 6 chief, said the 911-text service would have a positive impact for people, especially those who have an impairment. The service could also benefit the elderly population who may not be able to call for assistance.

But the service won’t solve the problem of locating those who call for help, which happens on occasion.

Kyle Police Chief Jeff Barnett said the text service doesn’t pinpoint location information to dispatch centers.

Dispatch centers receive an alert on screen that displays a message sent by citizens for help. The dispatcher can then communicate with the individual through text message.

Phone calls, however, can be triangulated with a constant connection.

In addition, those who may have a speech or hearing impairment will utilize in-place technologies to communicate with dispatch technicians, if need be.

“We hope the service is only used when all other options aren’t available,” Barnett said. “It’s not our goal to change 911 into a text message service. The priority is simply to have another resrouces for those who may need it.”

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