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May 14, 2014

911 texting available in Clark County

Officials say voice calls still more efficient

CLARK COUNTY — Clark County residents can now use text messaging to reach 911 emergency services.

The new program — which is a statewide initiative — went into effect Wednesday, but it’s only available, at this time, to those who subscribe to Verizon Wireless cellular service.

Clark County 911 Executive Director Brad Meixell said the texting service stemmed from officials wanting to provide a need to disabled people.

“One of the biggest pushes for texting 911 was for the deaf and hearing impaired community,” he said. “Without finding someone to call 911 for them, they had no way to communicate with 911.”

While Meixell says making a voice call to reach 911 is nearly always recommended, there are situations when sending a 911 text is better than calling.

He said a good example is during a home invasion, when speaking could put a person in further danger.

“Or, if you are in a domestic situation where calling 911 could escalate the situation,” Meixell said. “Those situations alone are a good reason to have the service.”

Meixell says the service is also appropriate for those suffering a medical emergency, such as a stroke, and have lost the ability to speak.

He repeated, though, that customers should use the texting option only when calling 911 is not an option.

“Using a phone to call 911 is still the most efficient way to reach emergency help. Texting is not always instantaneous, which is critical during a life-threatening emergency,” Meixell said.

He said a text message may take slightly longer to dispatch emergency services because of the time involved — someone must enter the text, the message must go over the network and the 911 telecommunicator must read the text and then text back.

A 911 text does not automatically provide Clark County 911 employees the exact location of the incident. When sending a text, Meixell said it is crucial to text the location of the incident and the nature of the emergency.

Meixell said the three other major wireless carriers, T-Mobile, Sprint and AT&T, are expected to offer their customers the same service in the coming weeks.

He said the Federal Communications Commission is encouraging all wireless service providers to offer the texting service.

Meixell said those customers who attempt to send a 911 text message through a carrier that does not provide the texting service will receive a return notification to their phone that the message was not sent.

The new texting option is an initiative of Indiana Statewide 9-1-1 Board, and counties throughout the state are joining the program in phases.

Meixell said in addition to Clark County, Scott and Harrison counties are now offering the texting service for Verizon Wireless customers, and Washington County is close to launching the service.

He said texting 911 is currently not an option for Floyd County residents.

Meixell also said the texting service comes with no fees without additional expenses to Clark County.

“We were able to leverage existing technology to support this feature,” Meixell said. “We did not have any additional costs to be able to provide it.”

 

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