Ionia Co. accepts text messages to 911; a first in West Michigan

Posted at 8:38 PM, Jun 03, 2015
and last updated 2015-06-03 21:09:00-04

IONIA COUNTY, Mich. -- It's quite possibly the first image that comes to mind when thinking of 911: a dispatcher on the other end of the line asking, "Where's your emergency?"

Well, technology is changing the way things work at Ionia County Central Dispatch.

"We have the ability to receive texts to 911 calls," Jim Valentine, the dispatch director told FOX 17.

Texting is something many of us already do, several times a day. However, people can now text their emergencies to 911 in Ionia County. Valentine said Ionia is the 6th county in the state to implement this, and it's the first county in West Michigan.

About a year ago, Valentine said the four main cell phone carriers announced "text to 911" is available. It's up to local dispatch centers to sign on and integrate the technology—at no cost. This afternoon, Ionia County cleared the last technological hurdle.

"It's extremely beneficial to hearing impaired individuals, where they can't communicate by phone and would be ideal in situations where talking on the phone would endanger the caller," Valentine explained.

He gave examples "like a domestic violence situation or if somebody breaks into your house in the middle of the night and you're hiding from them."

So I tested it out. Valentine said the same computer monitors dispatchers use to field incoming calls will also be used to respond to incoming texts. As soon as I sent a text message to 911, Ionia County Central Dispatch sent a reply asking for my location.

The dispatcher can type their own messages or select from a drop down menu. But Valentine said you should only text if it's your only option. He said dispatch has a better chance of finding your location with a traditional phone call. Text to 911

"With the text system we do not [ping location]," he said it's not possible at this point.

Valentine said if dispatch receives a text message, the dispatcher will ask if the person can call. If the person can't call then dispatch will "continue to handle that call through the text system."

He said this technology has been in the works for years. But now that it's finally here, this is only the beginning. Valentine said someday it will be possible to text video and pictures to 911. Of course, Valentine said don't text and drive.