Starting today cell phone carriers Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint will make texting to 911 via cell phone a possibility.
Each county must individually sign up for the program, and many aren’t on board yet, including Marion County and most of Central Indiana.
In many areas calling 911 is the only option.
The program is called Next Generation 911. Users would simply address a text to 911, then type a message describing the emergency.
This would be especially helpful, for example, during a home break-in when the victim is hiding and unable to speak.
However, Indianapolis Public Safety Center Chief Tim Baughman said there are concerns with the new technology.
For example, when someone calls 911, they relay all necessary information to the dispatcher in a short amount of time: name, location, a description of the emergency and responses to any questions the operator may ask in response.
One concern is, texting this information would take a considerable amount of time.
Baughman said 911 dispatchers in Marion County field roughly three million calls each year. Their main goal, he said, is sending help as soon as possible, and city leaders don’t want to implement a program that may get in the way of that.
Another concern is that, even if a user sent a text to 911 with a smart phone, the Next Generation 911 system has no way of knowing from where the text originated, even if it’s sent from a smartphone with GPS.
“When a call comes through the old E911 system, we know where they’re calling from, it comes up on the screen automatically,” Baughman said. “If you come through text without some sort of application on the front end, we won’t know their location, so that’s something that’s going to have to be shared and that’ll be time consuming.”
Indianapolis has formed a committee through the office of Public Safety Director Troy Riggs to look more into the new system.
Bartholomew County is currently is using the system. Tipton, Putnam and Fayette Counties have signed on to the service. In those locations, public safety administrators say they’re still testing the system to work out any bugs. For the time being, they ask residents to continue calling 911 until the texting system is fully functional.