Residents and visitors to Durham, N.C., who are customers of Verizon Wireless will be able to text 911 in the long term, after the carrier and the Durham Emergency Communications Center yesterday agreed to continue the “text-to-911” offering that has been the subject of a trial for the past year.
Some(PSAPs) are able to accept text messages through administrative connections, but Durham is one of the few 911 call centers that is equipped to handle emergency texts natively through the 911 system. While some public-safety officials have expressed fear that accepting texts could lead to a significant increase in traffic for call-takers, that has not been the case during the year-long trial, according to James Soukup, director of the Durham Emergency Communications Center.
“We only had one text this whole year, and that wasn’t really an emergency—someone texted us to let us know that an alarm was going off at a construction site,” Soukup said during an interview with Urgent Communications. “We got there, and the officer cleared it as weather-related.”
Although the Durham PSAP is able to accept 911 texts, there is an ongoing public-education effort to let people know that voice calls to 911 are preferred, except for two instances: (1) the caller is hard of hearing or cannot speak, or (2) a potential victim needs to communicate silently for safety reasons, Soukup said.
“It’s definitely not going to be a burden on any 911 center anywhere, because the public is smart enough not to text you for things you need an emergency [voice call] for,” he said. “Those situations where talking to us will get you in trouble are very few.”
It’s possible that Durham’s low number of texts to 911 can be attributed to the fact that many people still are not used to having the option, Soukup said.
“We’ll put it out there every which way we can,” he said. “There are probably those that don’t realize it’s available, but we’re doing everything we can to let the public know.
“You have those rare instances where texting is appropriate, so it’s always good to have. I’m sure it will prove itself to be a great thing sometime in the future.”
When receiving 911 text messages, the emergency communication is processed much like a TTY emergency call with a hearing-impaired user is processed, Soukup previously said.