If an intruder breaks into your house and you’re afraid they might hear you calling for emergency services, what other options are there?
McPherson County is now a part of the "Call If You Can - Text If You Can't" program that has been implemented in Kansas.
On Nov. 2, the Next Generation software “Text-to-911” system was launched into 71 Kansas counties. This allows individuals the ability to text dispatch when a voice call isn’t an option.
"They've actually been working on it for two years now — it was just a matter of getting the software and getting it to different centers, so its just been kind of a slow progression of getting the next step in the system. It was no one particular event that triggered it, it was just the next logical thing to do," said Jill Brunsell, communications supervisor of the McPherson County Communications Department.
Brunsell explained this new software system is the next step in connecting with those previously unable to connect through a voice call — the hard of hearing, deaf or speech impaired communities.
“I’m excited for those communities, now they have access to us just like everyone else does,” she said.
The software system is set up in two different systems at the dispatcher’s convenience, a voice line and a text message line. When a text comes through, the dispatchers receive an alarm saying they've received a text. If one dispatcher is on a call, the text message goes to another dispatcher who could answer.
Brunsell said the system has automatic responses in it that are ready to send by clicking on it twice.
"Some include whats the location of your emergency, so I would just double click on that then it goes back to the caller as a text message. That window stays open for 60 minutes of until we disconnect the calls," she said.
With “Text-to-911,” emergency communicators won’t see your GPS location as they would with a voice call. So it’s very important for you to text in your location to them.
Although there are upgrades that come with this new system, Brunsell said there are still a few challenges.
"One of the downfalls that we see immediately is we don't have the ability to initiate a text message, we are the only one that can close the conversation if someone texts us. Its obviously going to take longer to get information, text goes a lot slower than voice," she explained.
Phones with an active service plan with data will work with this system. Text-to-911 is available with plans from AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless. If a text is made to 911 where that service is not available, a message will be sent back to the phone advising the customer to make a voice call.
Dispatchers also strees that texting 911 is the same as calling — only do it in a real emergency.
"The main thing that we talked about on the Facebook post is we want to stress that we know people will want to test it out because thats just curiosity. People will want to see does this actually work, we understand that. But when you test it out, that does tie up a dispatcher to make sure you don't have an emergency," she said.
For more information, contact the McPherson County Law Enforcement Center at 620-245-1200, or visit their website at http://mcphersoncountyks.us/10/E-911-Communications or visit the McPherson County 911 page on Facebook.
Contact Brooke Haas by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @ MacSentinel.