Residents of Armstrong County now have the option of texting to report an emergency to 911, public safety officials said on Tuesday.
While the ability to text can be useful in a scenario where talking to a dispatcher could make a situation worse, the call should be the first line of communication when asking for help, said Chad Gradwell, coordinator of the dispatcher. County 911.
“It is rare, but there are cases such as break-ins with people in the home who cannot physically speak on the phone where it would be helpful,” he said.
Gradwell said data collected by 911 centers in the United States that have added the text messaging service indicates that less than 4% of requests for help are received by text.
The Federal Communications Commission requires all wireless carriers and other text messaging application providers in the country to provide emergency text messages to call centers upon request.
Gradwell said the downside to texting 911 is that, unlike calling a cell phone, it doesn’t automatically provide 911 dispatchers with the coordinates of his location.
Location information associated with a cell phone can be used to identify its location within a 60 to 90 foot radius, he said.
Text messages sent to 911 receive an automated response asking for the texter’s address or location, he said.
“Once we receive an SMS, the person will receive an automated response asking for their address or location,” Gradwell said. “After that, it’s like a phone-to-phone communication with the dispatcher able to text the person on the other end of the phone. “
If someone doesn’t know where they are, dispatchers can always send help “but it will take a little more work.”
Gradwell said adding SMS to the 911 system required installing new software and was being coordinated with surrounding counties.