If you’re choking or otherwise incapable of speaking into a phone, the ability to send a text to a 911 service is a great thing. Indiana was the first US state to institute a 911 texting program, which is now available in 88 of its 92 counties. It’s highly doubtful it will be the only state to do so on such a massive scale.
“When it comes to 911, we’ve been able to lead the country for several years with 911 services,” said Barry Ritter, executive director of the Indiana Statewide 911 Board. Fort Wayne-based INdigital telecom is the company behind the designing, building, and operating of the IN911 network for the board. Ritter also said the state features the largest deployment of the service in the country.
Most US states offer 911 text services in a few of their counties. Illinois, for example, offers the texting service in about five areas within three counties. Verizon Wireless was the first carrier to allow customers to send text messages to 911 emergency responders in counties all over Indiana, with T-Mobile, AT&T, and Sprint following suit. The Indiana Statewide 911 Board notified carriers in May of 2013 that it was ready to accept inbound texts.
Texting Versus Calling
Calling 911 is still considered the best and most efficient way to reach a dispatcher, and texting should be used only when calling is not a possibility. This is because calling offers an instant response compared to texting. The time required to enter a text, send it over a network and then wait for the dispatcher to write and send a response means emergency services might take longer to reach the afflicted party. Providing location information as well as the type of emergency in the first text is therefore essential. It’s also important not to use abbreviations or slang to keep the emergency message as straightforward and clear as possible.
Statistics obtained since May of 2014 show that eight 911 dispatchers in Indiana have received more than 50 emergency text messages, while 30 dispatch centers received fewer than 50 emergency texts. These numbers indicate that residents are using the service but are not flooding dispatch centers with text messages. It also shows that people are using the service when appropriate.
If you reside in Indiana or another state where using 911 text messaging is an option, it’s important to keep a few basic guidelines in mind. Texting should be used only when calling is not possible, i.e. if the victim is deaf, speech-impaired, choking or in a situation when speaking is unsafe, such as during a home invasion or abduction. For example, earlier this month an Indianapolis woman texted that she was being abducted, which resulted in her rescue by police on Interstate 70 in Vigo County. The abduction helped raise awareness about 911 texting as a viable solution in emergency situations.
Additionally, in order to send a successful emergency text, the victim must have a text messaging program on his or her phone and send the message to a 911 call center or Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) that accepts emergency text messages.