Text-to-911 services coming to Abilene

Text-to-911 services coming to Abilene

ABILENE, Texas - Two weeks ago the FCC adopted a policy that requires all wireless phone companies to enable customers to send text messages to 911.

911 dispatchers in Abilene said they are prepared for the changes headed their way.

"We're ready to receive text messages right now just as soon as the cell phone carriers provide that service," said Abilene Police Department Communication Manager Wayne Brandt.

Cell phone carriers are required to provide text-to-911 services before the end of the year.

The biggest problem with sending text messages to 911 is making those text messages a priority and making sure they go through. The FCC has rules in place to deal with that. Starting September 30, if you send a text to 911 and it doesn't go through, the phone company has to tell you.

The FCC passed the policy with hopes to modernize the current 911 system with available technology. In certain situations it could be a life-saver.

"The biggest advantage obviously for the deaf and hard of hearing community so that they can communicate with us just like anybody else without having to have a third party service to interpret for them," said Brandt. 

"Another advantage is if someone is unable to speak for whatever reason like being held captive and by speaking would give away their position. Say in an active shooter situation in a school or a mall or something like that then they can communicate with us without giving away their position," Brandt said.

It's not all good news. 911 dispatchers said there are some concerns when people opt for text messaging over making a voice call.

"It's going to take a lot longer to communicate this information. So certainly if you have the ability to speak and hear then the best way is to call 911 and communicate normally," Brandt said. 

You can not currently reach 911 in Abilene by text message.

The top four wireless providers, AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile, have agreed to speed up text-to-911 capabilities making the service available as soon at May 15.

The FCC encourages everyone to contact 911 by making a voice call if you can and if you are deaf or hard of hearing use a telecommunications relay service if possible.

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