Eagle County ready for text-to-911

Eagle County ready for text-to-911

Since January, people in Eagle County, Colo., have been able to send text messages to emergency responders through a new text-to-911 service. Now they’re just waiting for the first emergency texts to start trickling in.

“We wanted to offer that functionality to our citizens because it was something that was already expected,” said Jennifer Kirkland, operations support supervisor at the Vail Public Safety Communications Center. “It’s also something that we wanted to offer for the deaf and hard-of-hearing community. It gives them parity of access to 911, where they don’t have to call a relay service or use a TDD machine. They can just access 911 like any other citizen.”

The county worked with TeleCommunication Systems’ Geospatial Emergency Manager 911, a web-based hosted solution, so no additional technology was needed. The system is accessed via a website, and each person must sign in to receive texts.

When someone texts 911, TCS routes the message to the correct Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP), or 911 center. A chime and a visual alert then opens a chat session on the PSAP worker’s web browser. Staff can reply by typing on the keyboard or selecting a pre-written message from a drop-down menu.

“It works just like any other text relationship that you might have with a friend or a relative,” Kirkland said. “The first text we send back when we receive one says, ‘A voice call is best, but go ahead with your text if you’re unable to call, and what is the location of your emergency?’”

“Text-to-911 is ideal for some situations, but a voice call lets call takers pick up on auditory cues, she added. “You just don’t have the same relationship with a text,” Kirkland said.

Currently, the county’s text-to-911 program supports only data that comes in by Short Message Service, not videos or photos. It’s accessible via any device that uses the major carriers AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon and Sprint.

No one has sent 911 a text yet, Kirkland said, perhaps because people aren’t conditioned yet to think to do that. Also, “I think most people actually prefer to call than text,” she said.

About the Author

Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.

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