KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A burglar comes into your home and you are hiding in the closet. It’s the classic scenario where being able to text 911 instead of calling could save your life.
Right now that’s not a possibility in the metro, but that’s all about to change. By the end of the month cell phone users in Ray, Platte, Clay, Jackson and Cass County, Missouri, and Wyandotte, Leavenworth, Johnson, and Miami County Kansas will be able to text 911.
The people behind the texting 911 technology are sending a strong message, however; it should never be the first option. But in several scenarios it’s the only option, and, therefore, worth making available to those who need it.
During the World Series Parade in downtown Kansas City phone calls overwhelmed wireless carriers voice systems. The only way to communicate was by text.
The very next day, dispatchers all around the metro started training for that same situation playing out for 911 callers. Mid-America Regional Council Public Safety Program Director Keith Faddis says the scenarios where someone might need to text 911 are virtually endless.
From domestic situations where the victim doesn’t want to alert the aggressor they are reaching out for help, to home break-ins where the caller needs to stay quiet. Then there’s those who can’t speak at all.
“A lot of times the deaf community will text a friend to call 911 for them. This eliminates that step,” Faddis said.
But for all it’s benefits, the Mid-America Regional Council has been dealing with plenty of pitfalls during testing.
First is the technology itself. If your carrier can’t find your location and what dispatch center to contact, the message won't go through.
“It will send them a bounce back message saying text to 911 is not available please make a voice call,” Hassan Al-Rubaie, a MARC communications technician, said.
Users shouldn't text abbreviations or use emojis.
Many dispatchers have expressed reservations about the time it takes to have text conversations in emergency situations, and fears they’ll suddenly be inundated with texts.
Faddis says preloaded standard questions on 911 operator’s screens will save them time typing. Text capabilities haven’t swamped dispatchers at the roughly 10 percent of 911 call centers across the nation that now have them. Faddis said it’s simply an added tool.
“Our philosophy is call if you can, text if you can’t, because you can gain a lot more information a lot quicker by a phone call,” he said.