Dinwiddie 911 will soon accept videos, photos & text messages

Published: Oct. 29, 2013 at 11:18 PM EDT|Updated: Nov. 9, 2013 at 12:35 AM EST
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DINWIDDIE, VA (WWBT) - As school emergencies have unfolded from Sandy Hook Elementary to Sparks Middle School, parents across the country have asked when will 911 be able to accept text messages?

During the Virginia Tech massacre, hundreds of texts sent to 911 went nowhere, cries for help were left unanswered. But Dinwiddie County is now leading the effort to change current 911 systems, allowing anyone to send photos, videos and texts to emergency dispatchers.

"In most areas of the Commonwealth, texts to 911 go nowhere," said Denice Marrs, communications manager for Dinwiddie Fire & EMS. "I have two boys…. And that does weigh on my mind: what would they do, if something was to happen?"

By January or February of next year, if you can send a media file between cell phones, you can send it to 911 in Dinwiddie. But we asked, if dispatchers get texts, can they respond?

"They will be able to text back," Marrs said. "We will have pre-loaded messages, hot-keys to push."

Hot-keys will save time, so with the stroke of one key, 911 can send messages such as, "where is your emergency?"

Snapping a photo with your cell phone will be able to provide police and dispatchers with instant descriptions of vehicles and crime scenes, assisting planning for first responses.

York County is the only place in Virginia with a 911 system that currently accepts texts, but it's in two different systems. Dinwiddie's will be all in one.

The Dinwiddie Emergency Communications Center is prepared for an influx of texts once the next generation 911 goes live. But how will dispatch sort out bogus texts, from real ones?

"Everything's an emergency, until the responder gets there and decides it's not an emergency," Marrs said. "So that's the same policy we will follow with text messaging."

Make no mistake, a joke text could send you to jail. But preparations are now underway for dispatchers to get texts, videos, and photos - speaking volumes, if callers aren't able to say a word.

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