Two more counties roll out text to 911 service

Posted at 6:13 PM, Feb 22, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-22 18:13:48-05

WEST MICHIGAN – Two West Michigan counties are the latest in the state to unveil a text-to-911 system that affords those in peril another option to make a silent call for help.

Both Kalamazoo and Ottawa counties rolled out their systems last week, one that allows residents and visitors to send text messages to emergency dispatchers in lieu of making a phone call that could put their safety at risk.

“We have situations where someone could be in imminent danger and they can’t talk,” said Tim Smith, Executive Director of the Ottawa County Central Dispatch Authority. “They could have somebody breaking into their house, they could be being assaulted – domestic violence – you could be hiding in a closet or it could be something as tragic as the Orlando nightclub shooting where you don’t want to talk and give away your position.”

No matter what the case, use of the system is quite easy. In the ‘to’ line, just punch in 911 as the recipient, and text them your emergency and your location. As soon as dispatchers know that, they’ll send help and stay on the thread with you until help arrives.

It’s a great option, but a secondary one from the point of dispatchers.

“You call if you can, text if you can’t,” said Jeff Troyer, Executive Director of the Kalamazoo County Consolidated Dispatch Authority. “We prefer the voice call because it is much faster than a text to 911.”

While it may be easier to send a text over completing a voice call, the latter is preferred for time purposes and so dispatchers can get a better feel for the situation.

“It is a text message,” said Troyer. “You get no voice tone, you can’t hear whether the person sounds like, maybe they’re being told what to say - it’s a one way communication. Not only that, but there’s a slight delay.”

Currently, 14 counties in the Lower Peninsula utilize some type of text to 911 system and all but two are working to or have plans to implement one in the near future. Though they don’t mandate having one, the FCC provides guidance for applying the programs, and makes sure all major carriers can function on them.

Officials with dispatch in both Kalamazoo and Ottawa counties want to remind you not to text and drive.