Texting to 911 call centers

By Rachel DePompa - bio | email
Posted by Terry Alexander - email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – How about texting 911 with an emergency? The technology is not that far off in the future.

Nationwide, 911 handles more than 230 million calls a year. 70 percent of those calls come from cell phones, and now we're a few years away from being able to text, send pictures, even videos to emergency dispatchers.

Before long it won't just be calls coming into Richmond's Emergency 911 Center. Cell phone users will one day be able to text, send a picture or even a video.

"It's one thing to hear it; it's another thing to see it," said Commander John Hall.

Commander John Hall oversees operations at Richmond's Emergency Center and says this technology is long overdue.

"Once the technology is available, I think it actually makes it easier and more efficient for the citizen to communicate information to police," he said.

It would work like this, if you were in an emergency and you pulled out your cell phone and began taking a video, maybe you even leave a message for police, you could hit send and it would end up in the 911 center, in the hands of dispatchers.

Richmond police say it'd help give them a better picture of what officers are responding to and it could help citizens during stressful times.

"Especially in a situation where a person can't speak on the telephone, somebody's hiding from something," said Craig Gwynne, Assistant Communications Supervisor.

A situation like the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting rampage which left 32 dead. The FCC chairman says students desperately tried to text 911, but local dispatcher never got their messages.

Richmond is about to spend almost 2 million dollars upgrading the phones in its center; a move that sets the stage for the changes to come.

"The telephone companies still have to come up with the infrastructure, which is the network to make all this happen," said Bill Hobgood with Richmond's Public Safety Team.

Again we want to remind you don't try to text or send pictures to 911 right now. The messages won't get there. Our 911 centers and the rest around the country are at least 3 years away from the technology.

The FCC also has plans to allow systems like on-star to communicate directly with 911, possibly getting paramedics to an accident scene faster than ever before.

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