Durham residents and visitors who are Verizon Wireless customers can send a text message to 911 for emergency help as part of a six-month trial starting today.
The Durham Emergency Communication Center is the first 911 center in North Carolina, as well as the second 911 center in the United States, to enable “text-to-911” technology using 911 digits and live call takers, according to a news release. The first and only other 911 center using Intrado’s technology is Black Hawk County, Iowa. The “text-to-911” software trial period is at no cost to the Durham Emergency Communications Center.
“The way people communicate is evolving, and 911 centers across the nation are evaluating how to adapt to the digital age we’re currently living in and offer multiple ways for people to reach out to 911 when they need help,” said James Soukup, director of the Durham Emergency Communications Center. “When asked to participate in this trial, we went into it as an opportunity to help folks who are hearing impaired and potential victims who can't afford for someone to hear them make a 911 voice call.”
Verizon Wireless customers in Durham should keep the following in mind if they send a text to 911 during the trial period:
· Customers should use the texting option only when calling 911 is not an option.
· It can take longer to receive a text message because someone must enter the text, the message then goes through the system, and the 911 telecommunicator must read the text and then text back. Picking up the phone and calling 911 is still the most efficient way to reach emergency help. Texting is not always instantaneous, which is critical during a life-threatening emergency.
· Providing location information and nature of the emergency in the first text message is imperative since the Durham Emergency Communications Center will not be able to access the cell phone location or speak with the person who is sending the text. Text abbreviations or slang should never be used so that the intent of the dialogue can be as clear as possible.
· Customers must be in range of cell towers in the Durham County area. If customers are outside or near the edge of the county, the message may not reach the Durham Emergency Communications Center.
· Texts sent to 911 have the same 160 character limit as other text messages.
· Verizon Wireless customers must have mobile phones that are capable of sending text messages. Any text message to 911 will count either against their messaging bundle or be charged at 20 cents each.
· At this point in the trial period, the messaging software pre-loaded onto the Droid from Motorola (original version) does not format text messages correctly when the digits “911” are entered as the “To” address. Installing the free “Verizon Messages” application for Droids (version 1.3.24a) from the Android Market fixes this issue.
· The texting function should only be used for emergency situations that require an immediate response from police, fire or emergency medical services. Non-emergency issues should still be communicated to the Durham Emergency Communication Center through its non-emergency line at 919-560-4600.