(KTRE) - People living in Deep East Texas now have another option when it comes to communicating their emergencies to first responders: by text.
Text to 911 is now live in several Deep East Texas counties, which allows anyone with a cell phone the option to send 911 dispatchers a text instead of placing a voice call.
“You know, nowadays, we’ve come so far with electronics and technology has really improved, and so I think this is just a good safeguard for everybody,” said Greg Sanches, sheriff of Angelina County. “It’s a good tool you can have to text 911 instead of making a call.”
Testing is currently underway with all four national carriers AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon, but officials say texting shouldn’t be the primary source for communication if you need assistance.
“Our motto is ‘call if you can, text if you can’t’," said Jeff Adams, special projects coordinator with the Deep East Texas Council of Governments (DETCOG). “We want to make sure everyone understands it’s always going to be better, faster, if you can actually make a voice call."
“Texting should be used in certain situations where a person could alarm someone that they’re texting 911,” Sanches added. “Maybe they’ve been assaulted, maybe they’re hurt real bad and that’s the only way they can do it. Maybe somebody is handicapped and they’re deaf, and someone that can’t speak or something, so that way they could just text the emergency and get an emergency personnel to show up.”
Sanches said he does not anticipate the texting option would require more dispatchers, nor would it effect their operations too much. Adams shared the sheriff’s sentiment, adding that the text system was based on the same system that voice calls are received. In terms of preparing for the text option to go live, Adams said not much needed to be changed.
“There wasn’t, as far as a whole lot of things that needed to be changed as far as the network, we kind of just maintained that the calls are coming in, The major phone companies take care of the network side of it,” Adams explained.
As technology advances, though, Adams said changes could be added to the system to include video components. For now, the system is as ready as it should be.
“It’s as if you’re doing regular text messaging,” Adams added. “It is basically responding as if you were responding to your neighbor or your friend on your cell phone. So, the text comes up on the screen as if its up coming up on a regular phone screen, and the dispatcher is able to respond to those text messages."
If you’d like more information about the Text to 911 service, or if you’d like to see a complete list of Texas counties where the service is able, you can do so by visiting the Federal Communications Commissions website.