State launches Text-to-911 emergency service

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INDIANAPOLIS (May 14, 2014) — Indiana has become the second state in the country with a new way to reach 911 in an emergency. State police launched the Text-to-911 program Wednesday.

It’s the next generation to text technology and keeping you safe. Sixty-six counties have signed up so far.

“Public safety has taken a major step forward,” said Barry Ritter, executive director of the Indiana Statewide 911 Board. “Starting today, everyone who lives and travels through Indiana will have direct access to emergency services when speaking isn’t possible or isn’t safe.”

Send a text to 911 and the message will take about 20 seconds to pop up on a dispatcher’s screen. The program will then be able to track an approximate location based on the cell phone tower.

For the first time, it’s also given the hearing-impaired direct access to help, instead of using a video relay service.

It’s not for everyone just yet. So far, only Verizon customers in a county that’s part of the program can text 911. Others will receive a bounce-back text that will say: ‘Please make a voice call to 911. There is no text service to 911 available at this time.’

INdigital telecom, who created the texTTY software, expects other carriers, including Sprint, AT&T, and T-Mobile will join the network by July.

County leaders can voluntarily sign in for the program at no cost to them or the consumer. Marion, Boone, Hendricks, Morgan and Johnson Counties are still waiting to be trained on the program.

Some local agencies are interested but holding out for now.

“There are some unknowns,” said Mike Snowden, executive director of Hamilton County Public Safety Communications. “We don’t know how many texts we can reasonably expect on a given hour or day, and we don’t know the staffing levels that we’ll need for this technology.”

Public safety officials stress there are limitations to texting. It will take 20 seconds longer to receive a text than a voice call. SMS technology can only allow dispatchers to trace an approximate location within a one-mile radius.

The campaign’s slogan: B4U TEXT 911, VOICE IS BEST.

“A call to 911 is best. If you’re able to talk, that’s the preference,” said Capt. David Bursten of Indiana State Police. “Texting can be delayed. Also, with autocorrect, a simple statement like ‘my house is on fire’ can be interpreted to ‘my horse is on fire’. That can have a whole different meaning to the 911 operator receiving that text.”

For more information on your county, click here.