New service to benefit residents with speech, hearing impairments; traditional telephone calls to 911 system still preferred communication method
On Wednesday, Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz was joined by Commissioner of Central Police Services John Glascott, Emergency Services Commissioner Dan Neaverth Jr., and Executive Director of the Erie County Office for the Disabled Frank Cammarata to announce "text to 9-1-1" is now available to Erie County residents seeking assistance during an emergency.
While traditional telephone calls to the system remain the preferred method of communication in an emergency, the alternative "texting" form of communication will be beneficial to individuals with speech or hearing impairments, as well as for use in situations where a telephone call is not possible - such as when a crime is in progress or when the caller is facing domestic violence or abuse.
"Adding a texting component to the 9-1-1 system allows individuals who may not be able to speak into a telephone for whatever reason to access emergency help when it is needed, without ever speaking a word," Poloncarz said. "In accidents with injuries, in domestic violence situations, or whenever a person can't speak but needs help, a text to 9-1-1 will get assistance on the way.
"However, everyone should be aware that use of the text to 9-1-1 service carries the same responsibilities as the traditional phone 9-1-1 system, and that this is not something to be abused. This is a life-saving resource, and frivolous or non-serious usage of the system could result in critical resources being diverted away from an individual who really needs help. The system is there to be used when it is needed and, as with the traditional 9-1-1 phone system, abuse of the system carries penalties."
Over the past several months, Erie County's E-9-1-1 Emergency Communications Center received major equipment upgrades to provide these enhanced 9-1-1 capabilities. Text messages to 9-1-1 follow the same parameters as other texted wireless messages; callers are limited to 160 characters and reception and service will be limited if cell phone service is interrupted.
"We have been working with the mobile carriers in the area such as Sprint, Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile to make sure this system is operational for our citizens," Glascott said. "All of the public safety telecommunicator call takers at the 9-1-1 center have been trained to respond to 'text to 9-1-1' calls. After a vigorous testing period, we are pleased to activate it and offer it as another life-saving tool for the public."
"This system provides better access to the 9-1-1 system for the deaf and hard of hearing community and will also help people who may be non-verbal," Cammarata said. "Assistive technologies for people with a disability have greatly increased in the past few years, allowing them greater access to services. This is another terrific and helpful example."
"Erie County will be one of the few counties in Western New York capable of handling text-to-9-1-1 calls," said Michelle Kerr, Erie County's deputy director of law enforcement communications. "The 9-1-1 text message rings in similar to a normal phone call. The incoming text message will appear on all of our equipment. Once we answer the call, a text screen will open, at which point text dialogue with the caller can begin."
In most cases, Erie County's equipment will be able to see the general location of the caller/texter. If for some reason text to 9-1-1 service is found to be unavailable, the caller will receive a text message instructing them to make a phone call, because there is no text service available to 9-1-1 at that time. When the call is over, the caller will receive a text message confirming the dialogue has closed.
County officials remind everyone that calling 9-1-1 remains the fastest and most efficient way to communicate with emergency personnel.
The following steps must be taken in order to text to 9-1-1 during an emergency:
•Enter the numbers "911" in the "To" field.
•The first text message to 9-1-1 should be brief and contain the location of the emergency and type of help that is needed.
•Push the "send" button.
•Be prepared to answer questions and follow all instructions.
•Text in simple words and do not use abbreviations.
Here are a few things to know about the 'text to 9-1-1' service:
•Text location information may not be equal to current location technology.
•As with all text messages, 9-1-1 messages can take longer to receive, can get out of order, or may not be received.
•Text to 9-1-1 is not available if you are roaming.
•A text plan is required to place a text to 9-1-1.
•If texting to 9-1-1 is not available in your area, or is temporarily unavailable, you will receive a message indicating texting 9-1-1 is not available and to contact 9-1-1 by other means.
•Photos and videos can't be sent to 9-1-1.
•Text to 9-1-1 cannot include more than one person. Do not send an emergency text to anyone other than 9-1-1.
•Don't text and drive.