Texting 911 provides alternate contact options

It’s standard procedure if there’s an emergency, dial 911. However, dispatcher centers across the country and even in Stearns County realize a phone call isn’t always appropriate for every situation.

“Call if you can,” said Michele Burke, a Dispatch Supervisor for the Stearns County 911 center. “Text if you can’t.”

The texting option for 911 calls is a new way to contact authorities when in need, Burke said it’s beneficial for the hard-of-hearing, those with speech impediments or individuals who are in a dangerous situation.

“If you were in the car and a drunk driver was driving and you wanted to report it, but you can’t make a voice call things like that. So we would encourage people to call, but in those situations, texting is the best option,” she said. “If you’re also a witness to domestic assault and it would be dangerous for you to call because you’re afraid of the person who is assailing another person. If your safety is in jeopardy and you can’t make a call without someone noticing or are afraid of retaliation, it’s appropriate.”

Despite the advancement, there’s still some controversy over cell-phone usage and 911 calls, as mobile devices can make it challenging for emergency responders or authorities to locate the call.

“It all depends on what phase the call comes in at,” Burke said. “Sometimes we get voice calls that are at phase 1 and it just gives us the tower location where the signal bounces off so the text to 911 operates as a phase 1 call so it gives us the tower location and not the device location.”

While the accuracy of the call can be an issue, Dan McClure, an officer with the St. Cloud Police department said it won’t affect the response time of an emergency.

“Dispatch will gather the initial information and send it to us either through our squad computer or via the radio so when we’re going to a call, typically we like to contact the complainant, but if that’s not the case, dispatch is able to continue the conversation.”

If you do end up getting in a sticky situation and are disabled from speaking, here’s what you do:

  1. Pick up the phone
  2. Text 911
  3. Send a message for help
  4. Wait for help to arrive

Even as texting for help is a fairly new feature, Burke said even more advancements are along the way.

“Sometime in the not so far away future, we’re going to be able to receive photos or video clips, things of that nature. Things are progressing for us technology wise for us to be able to interact with callers and citizens and the various restrictions they have for notifying us of their needs.”

As of right now, not many 911 texts come through in the Stearns County area, but both Burke and McClure say there’s a high possibility that texts and other methods of contact will increase in the coming years.



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