New "Text to 911" technology to make its way into Midlands soon - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina

New "Text to 911" technology to make its way into Midlands soon

(Source: WIS) (Source: WIS)
(Source: WIS) (Source: WIS)
NEWBERRY, SC (WIS) -

New technology is spreading through the Midlands that would allow you to pick up your phone to text 911 rather than call in case of emergency.

So far, Newberry and Kershaw Counties offer the technology. Fairfield and Richland Counties say it will launch soon.
 
The technology began debuting in select cities back in 2014.
 
Many believe it will lead to great improvements in helping two key groups of people: the hearing impaired and those who can’t safely make a phone call.
 
YaKesha Means says text to 911 could have been the end to the domestic abuse she, her mom, and sister suffered for years.
 
"We were just in the middle of nowhere," Means said. "Kind of helpless, I guess.”
 
Her first memories of hearing her father beat up her mom begin at 3 years-old. The abuse continued for years and didn’t end until Means’s father
killed himself and her mother when Means was in her teens.

"I had to hope that somebody would come and help and do something this time. It never occurred to me to pick up our rotary phone," said Means.
 
But Means and her sister might have found the courage to send a subtle text, if the technology had existed then.
 
"It's excellent technology, certainly not there yet, but I don't know that it could ever replace the phone call that we receive where we get that information so much faster," Newberry County Chief Deputy Todd Johnson.
 
Johnson said he was excited when he first heard about the texting technology.
 
"I thought this would be a way to reach the young generation, but as we began our research we began to see that there are some inherent flaws with non-verbal communication that are difficult to overcome at this stage,” said Johnson.
 
The first of those flaws is the difficulty in locating the origin of the text. Right now, a call to 911 can be traced. It’s not the same with a text.
 
It can also take a lot longer for a dispatcher to get the basics when communicating through text.

We tested Newberry’s system. Our initial text took a full minute to appear. The entire conversation took more than three minutes.
 
"You're depending on the reliability of the network. Most people assume when they hit send on this side it automatically arrives on the other," Johnson said. "And the truth is, depending on routing, it could take two or three minutes for that text message to even arrive to our center for us to answer.” 

So, while the technology can help some, like those in dangerous situations like Means, authorities encourage everyone to continue to call first when possible.

"I may be sitting there thinking that help's on the way and the reality is it was never delivered to our center, because it got lost in the network," Johnson said. "Whereas a phone call, you hear that voice, you know help's on the way and to go through the process. Someone's on the line with you if someone's breaking into your home, and talking you through, 'Don't worry, help is on the way.' And finding out information, what does the suspect look like? That information is gained rapidly rather than through text message.”

The Newberry Sheriff’s Office believes enhanced technology will allow them to located texts in the next couple of years, but they still say a phone call can save valuable seconds at a time when every minute matters.

To learn more about "Text to 911," you can read the consumer guide by clicking here

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