Texting to 911 now available throughout Washington County

Photo illustration. | Photo by Pashalgnatov, iStock, Getty Images Plus St. George News

ST. GEORGE — The St. George Communications Center implemented a “text-to-911” program Wednesday, joining a handful of other counties across the state that make it possible for an individual to send a text message to summon help in an emergency.

The St. George Communications Center spent more than a year upgrading equipment, implementing new software and hardware, and integrating systematic security programming to prepare for Wednesday’s deployment.

Screen shot of cell phone after a text to 911 is sent to the St. George Communications Center, St. George, Utah, June 20, 2018 | Photo courtesy of Justin Grenier, St. George News

Multiple factors were involved in the push to implement text-to-911 capabilities, including the generational shift from calling to texting, Cindy Flowers, communications center manager, said.

“Nowadays texting is almost the main mode of communication, so we needed to make that capability available to the public.”

Another advantage is in a dangerous situation where an individual may not be able to call for help, but texting would allow them to contact emergency dispatch silently, Flowers said.

The service is also beneficial to the hearing impaired, since it is faster and more efficient than using IP relay services or Telecommunications Device for the Deaf.

“Texting is just faster,” she said.

In areas where only a weak signal is available, texting can be a better option than a call because voice requires a much stronger cellular signal than a text, Justin Grenier, assistant manager of the communications center said.

Screen shot showing what an emergency dispatcher sees at St. George Communications Center when a text for help is received by 911, St. George, Utah, June 20, 2018 | Photo courtesy of Justin Grenier, St. George News

“If you’re out there and only have one bar on your phone, send a text for help.”

The service is operational throughout Washington County, Flowers said, and while Iron County is working on implementing the system there is no guarantee the text will go through outside of the Washington County area.

Even with the new technology, a voice call to 911 is preferred whenever possible and there are advantages to calling 911, Grenier said.

“Calling is faster and we’re going to pick up all of the sounds in the background that let’s us know what is happening behind the call.”

Flowers added that in an emergency, when seconds count “that literally means every second counts – so call first and text if calling isn’t possible.”

The FCC requires all wireless carriers to deliver emergency texts to 911 call centers upon request. If a 911 call center requests the text-to-911 technology, those providers are required to make the service available to that area within six months.

Implementation in St. George has taken more than a year because of necessary hardware and software upgrades as well as new equipment. Several cell phone carriers also went through upgrades to comply with system requirements.

As of January, other counties that have implemented the text-to-911 program are Davis (all areas except Clearfield), Morgan, Salt Lake, Utah and Weber, according to the Utah Communications Authority.

Despite Federal Communications Commission rules encouraging text-to-911 capability, only about 850 of more than 6,500 nationwide 911 call centers were equipped to take text messages as of March 2017, according to the FCC.

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Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.


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1 Comment

  • ScanMeister June 21, 2018 at 6:46 am

    Glad to see this come to Washington County Utah. A great feature of this if one is in a fringe area of cell service and voice is not connecting to 911…….try the text to 911 because your phone will ping (multiple attempts) and the text might go through when voice did not. This is good to remember.

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