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Texting 911 could be an option for East Texans by the end of the year

Sending a text message. Source: KLTV Staff. Sending a text message. Source: KLTV Staff.
SMITH COUNTY, TX (KLTV) - By the end of 2014, some East Texas cities could be receiving 911 calls in the form of text messages.

Currently, there's a nation-wide push to get 911 systems to accept emergency texts.  It's a new feature that can no doubt, help save lives, but it'll be a long time --hopefully  never-- before calling 911 becomes a thing of the past.
Emergency 911 dispatchers could be considered the true first responders. They know before anyone else what's going wrong and who needs help. Soon, they might be spending less time talking and more time texting.

"It'll be a two-way conversation, but it's not texting as we know it," explains Bill Morales, the 911 district director who coordinates calls throughout Smith County.

Morales is working on upgrading the system many Smith County cities rely on. When it's finished, texting 911 will be an option. "Once I flip the switch, they're going to start getting [911 text messages] and that's the tricky part," he says.

Texting 911 will work the same way the deaf community currently calls 911. However, like regular text messaging, 911 messages are subject to delays, the location data isn't as accurate as it is on a voice call and a text message conversation ties up a 911 phone line until the operator manually breaks the connection.

"It has the potential to occupy a lot of their time, whereas on a voice call, they can get information very quickly, disseminate it to authorities and be done with that call," explains Morales. Morales foresees texting 911 as a go-to for domestic violence, school shooting and other emergencies where people must send a quiet cry for help. "If you can call 911, voice call. Do that first. Text-to-911 is sort of the last option," he adds.

Morales says cities in Smith County and the City of Overton could see text-to-911 services in place by the end of this year. The City of Longview says they're currently looking at their options and hope to have texting 911 available by the middle of 2015.

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