'What’s your location?’: Dispatchers demonstrate how ‘Text to 911’ program works

This comes after Monday’s false active shooter threat near Moody Middle School

'What’s your location?’: Dispatchers demonstrate how ‘Text to 911’ program works

HENRICO, Va. (WWBT) - Henrico County dispatchers say Monday’s false active shooter threat was the first time they had received a text like that through the “Text to 911” program.

In June 2018 the Henrico County Emergency Communications Center incorporated the text to 911 technology into its system.

“We’ve gotten calls for a medical call,” said Administrative Communications Supervisor Rebekah Taylor. “We were able to give them pre-arrival information over texts to ensure that they’re receiving the same exact quality customer service we would give for anyone who calls in. We’ve had calls where people have had domestic situations.”

Taylor said the text to 911 comes in the exact way a cell phone would, with an audible ringing tone.

The program is meant to give citizens an extra form of communication when emergencies happen.

“There are some individuals who are hard of hearing or that may be their main source of communication, and we understand that,” Taylor said.

Taylor provided a demonstration of how text to 911 works. This comes just a day after dispatchers received a 911 text for an active shooter which later turned out to be false.

"That call came in and we do all we can to figure out where the location is,” Taylor said.

Location is the biggest challenge with this program, according to dispatchers.

“It gives us a phone number and that’s all the information we receive,” Taylor said. “It does not give latitude and longitude, it does not give a plot as a cell phone would, or an address like a landline would.”

Henrico Police said in Monday’s scare the text message did include a location.

"The text came in and we tried to make contact with the person, but I'm unsure if they responded at all," Taylor added.

Dozens of officers responded to Moody Middle School where they searched room-by-room, but no threat was found.

Several hours later, police were able to identify a person of interest connected to the case.

However, communicating with these callers and even texters is crucial in providing information to responding officers.

“We’re able to send back questions like, ‘What is your name? What is your emergency?’” Taylor said. “What is your emergency, do you need police, fire or an ambulance?’ That way we can get to know what resources that they need to delay any additional response… We want to make sure we’re giving everyone the help they need when they call.”

Henrico Police beefed-up patrols at the school Tuesday, however, have not identified the person of interest.

The Henrico Emergency Communications Center is also looking for new dispatchers. Human Resources is accepting applications from January 17-March 2, with a hire date of July 20, 2020.

Candidates would have to go through a training academy before officially starting the job.

For more details on the position, click here.

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