A text-messaging system implemented by the 911 center in the city of Middleton, Wis.—a suburb of the state capital of Madison—inadvertently allowed a Middleton dispatcher to help responders in Manchester, Tenn., address a plea for help from an 18-year-old boy regarding his mother.

Middleton’s PSAP is able to accept text messages through its administrative phone line via technology from Zipwhip. Although the text system was established for non-emergency matters, a text exchange in the early morning hours of April 13 resulted in the dispatch of first responders—in Tennessee—to treat a woman whose 18-year-old son indicated she had been drinking and may have overdosed, according to Middleton dispatcher Sue Buechner.

“Apparently, [the teen] was in Manchester [Tenn.], and I think he thought he was talking to Middleton, Tenn., which is three hours to the east of where he was,” Buechner said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “It turns out that he was typing from a McDonald’s and apparently had gotten our number off of the Internet and just assumed it was local.

“He was saying that he wanted someone to check out his mom. So, I called Manchester police and spoke with [the Manchester dispatcher] while I talked with [the teen] via text. Manchester said, ‘We’re kind of familiar with that family,’ and went ahead and sent the resources.”

The 18-year-old boy and his mother apparently were staying at a Manchester hotel, Buechner said. The teenager had gone to the McDonald’s to use the restaurant’s Wi-Fi connection, because his cell phone was out of voice minutes, so he did not believe he could call 911, she said.

“I told him that, even with phones without minutes, he should be able to dial 911 and get the local people,” Buechner said. “But I didn’t want to hang up and not be sure that he was going to get help, so I called over there and stayed on the phone with Manchester, until they had somebody on scene at the hotel with the mom. She said they also would be sending an officer over there to talk to the young man, as well.”

Wendy McKnight, Middleton communications center supervisor, said the center has received and sent 900 text messages since the Zipwhip solution was implemented last fall.

“The vast majority of them are non-emergency in nature—traffic complaints, car accidents or disabled vehicles, those kinds of things,” McKnight said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications.