The problem with America is that there are too many donuts and not enough milk, and that really sucks. Seven years ago, I ate a donut that was too big for my mouth but I swallowed anyway. BIG mistake. I rushed for a glass of milk only to discover that it was empty. With no hope, I rushed to the orange juice container only to discover that the two flavors do not mix as well as I hoped. With only my phone at hand and unable to breathe I could only text 911 in hopes to clear my throat of the donut and orange mixture.
With the technology available to 911 dispatchers, texting to 911 has proven to work efficiently and safely. The idea for texting 911 instead of calling is rooted in the idea that in some situations it is impossible to call or that calling would endanger the caller. The push behind the text to 911 technology resides within the Americans with Disabilities Act and the National Association of the Deaf. The Act and the Association mandate that the disabled- deaf, blind, etc.- have access to emergency services. Many citizens with disabilities struggle to receive emergency services and can be left helpless without the advantage of texting 911 for help. However, even with the increasing use of texting 911, many dispatchers across the country have yet to adopt this technological advantage that could save lives.
According to the National 911 Progress Report, the number of texts received by 911 dispatchers has increased by 187,000 from 2014-2018. This data provides analysis on the rising need for this technology and demonstrates the increasing number of users. However, since 911 dispatchers are based on counties within individual states, it rests on states to implement the new technology. While text-to-911 portrays numerous advantages to communities, it is still second hand to calling 911. Texting 911 is vital for the disabled and for those who cannot call because it would put them at risk. However, calls to 911 still provide quicker and more accurate information about the situation.
Minnesota’s approach to text- to-911 became the most effective measure of any state. Rather than slowly rolling out the texting service, communications director Dana Wahlberg wanted one full release across the state. This way, there would be no doubts for citizens if the service was available in their area. While this method of implementing the emergency texting service is ideal, it isn’t always feasible to do so, especially in large or densely populated states. One example of this is Texas.
Despite being one of the first states to implement the emergency texting service, Texas fell behind Minnesota’s complete state coverage. Like some other states, Texas has three governing bodies for PSAPS whereas Minnesota only has one central governance body. The City, County, and Rural governing bodies of Texas each have their own jurisdictions and priorities. The only place where the texting service was implemented was the dense urban areas of Texas. However, with guidance, new equipment from the Texas Commission on State Emergency Communications, and a lot of hard work the entire state of Texas became text capable at the end of 2019.
Despite Success, Concerns Remain
Despite the incredible success stories of the emergency texting service and the lives it saved, there are still some concerns with the service. Some believe that the extra responsibility would be overwhelming for 911 operators and that they would have to hire additional operators for the new service. In practice, these concerns can be laid to rest by the director of the 911 board, who mentions how well acquainted current operators are with the service.
Additionally, the service allows follow up texts when a 911 call is dropped, instead of a call which could put the caller in a dangerous situation. This has created a scenario where Indiana’s texting service sends more texts than they receive, proving how effective and useful the service can be.
It is easy to see texting as a casual, inefficient way of communicating. Recently, even small scale implementations of an emergency texting service have saved countless lives. The data regarding text-to-911 technology may be difficult to identify, however the advantages of this technology growth greatly outweighs any negatives. How many times would a situation have turned deadly if the victim had to call instead of text? While the answer may not be immediate, it is certainly greater than zero. Despite being only 0.09% of all emergency calls, for many individuals and families, they can have the biggest impact.
Praescient Analytics is uniquely positioned to prove how significant texting can be in emergency situations. This is because we are a data-driven company with advanced analytics solutions that identify trends and provide solutions based on these trends. With experience across and outside of the US, we can evaluate the worldwide impact, and hopefully bring better awareness to the benefits of this service. With many contracts in the intelligence and law enforcement community, we hope to eventually help ensure that this service is nationally implemented and the public is made aware that texting 911 is not only possible but just as effective at saving your life.