Just last week, the Federal Communications Commission announced a major breakthrough for emergency officials and residents across the country: a text messaging option for those unable to place a call.
In an emergency situation, first responders know that every second is precious, and communication is key. And that communication is about to expand, making it easier to ensure that “help is on the way.”
“Next Generation 911” is being looked at in West Virginia, as well as different ways to communicate with 911 emergency centers, according to Greg Lay, Director of Boone County Emergency Management.
“These services would be handy in cases where they’re under duress, they can’t talk, or they don’t have the ability to speak,” Lay said.
Lay said Boone County 911 is not currently set up to take 911 emergency text messages, pictures or videos, but can communicate with the hearing impaired through its TTY system. A TTY is basically the same thing as a TDD. The phrase TTY (or Teletype device) is how the hearing impaired and deaf community used to refer to the extremely large machines they used to type messages back and forth over the phone lines. A TDD operates in a similar way, but is a much smaller desktop machine.
“Currently everyone is looking for ways that people could have better access to 911 in the future when this type of technology comes to our area,” said Lay.
Lay said he can imagine the process from the county dispatchers’ end would be similar to taking a call, but that adjusting to the new technology would take some time.
“It will take millions of dollars in upgrades from the telephone service provides, as well as the emergency centers,” he said. Then, it would be a matter of learning how to best use this new technology. Anytime you add something new, there’s a learning curve involved. However, I am sure that once we’ve got it and have been using it for a while, we’ll wonder how we ever did without it.”
Lay says even when 911 emergency text messaging comes to our region, it would still be best to call when you can.
“I prefer a telephone call and I am sure it will not be for the routine call, or for ‘I saw a car wreck, I want to text it.’ If you can talk, call. If you’re not under any kind of duress and there’s no reason you can’t call, it’s going to be a lot faster to carry on a verbal conversation than typing back and forth,” Lay said.
Misty Marcum-Mullins says she thinks the cell 911 emergency texting service would be beneficial, but doubts she will ever see it in rural southern West Virginia counties.
“Mingo County is not one of those counties who are important enough to receive such services,” she said. “Also, U.S. 119 has zero service from Williamson to Logan County and there is a lot of political figures who travel that route to commute to Charleston for their meetings. I don’t get it. Its 2014 and rural areas as such still fall behind with technology services such as cell service and high speed internet. This is my opinion.”
Kaylah Lester doesn’t think the proposed service is worth the millions that would need to be spent to get it in place and working.
“Some people don’t have cell phones, and the people that do have them don’t always have cell phone signal so therefore, I don’t think it’s logical,” she said.
Margaret Maggie Moore disagrees.
“Yes, it would help,” Moore said.
Officials said the system’s launch date in West Virginia is still to be determined and could be several years away.
(Fred Pace is the Editor for the Coal Valley News. He can be contacted at email@example.com or at 304-369-1165, or on Twitter @fcpace62)