On January 1, 2015, Dinwiddie County Communications will begin accepting calls via “Text to 911”. This service will allow persons in need of assistance to send a text message to initiate response. Upon receipt of the text message, dispatchers will reply via text with a question regarding the nature of the emergency and will then ask whether or not the individual is able to call into the 911 center. Voice calls are the most efficient and preferred method of contact with the 911 center however Denice Marrs, Communication Manager, recognizes that not everyone is able to utilize traditional methods when requesting assistance.
For example, Dinwiddie resident Linda Killin has been deaf since birth. Despite hearing aids and surgeries she is not able to hear. Linda has however, learned to talk and is very good at reading lips. When her husband went into diabetic shock, Linda called 911. The interaction was extremely challenging for both Linda and the dispatcher. Linda shared “I told the dispatcher that I am hearing impaired and that my husband was in diabetic shock and needed help. But, I could not hear or answer their questions.” Eventually, a Sheriff’s deputy was dispatched to Linda’s home and, upon talking with Linda, requested an ambulance. In the end, Linda’s husband received the treatment he needed, but the incident would have run much more smoothly had Linda been able to utilize “Text to 911” to summon assistance.
Marrs stated, “There are also instances where which making a traditional call to 911 isn’t in the best interest of the caller.” Individuals in abusive or hostage situations often have to call for help secretly so that their abuser/attacker won’t hear them. Text to 911 will allow them to request assistance discretely.
While the ability to send a text message to the 911 call center is life-saving for many, this option is not intended for use by everyone in need of assistance. Marrs stresses “Traditional contact with 911, whereby the caller is able to communicate and speak freely with a 911 operator, is the still the best way to report an emergency or request medical assistance.” The new Text to 911 option is intended solely for use in special circumstances, when a traditional call is not possible or in the caller’s best interest.
Dinwiddie County is only the sixth locality in Virginia to implement this system. Other localities accepting Text to 911 are Henry County, James City County, Southampton County, York County, and the City of Roanoke. Outside of these localities, Text to 911 is not available at this time. Individuals requesting assistance via text message in non-participating localities will receive a bounce-back message stating “Please make a voice call to 911. There is no text service to 911 available at this time.” Dinwiddie’s system has been tested and validated through the four major wireless carriers in our area – Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint and AT&T.
The overall cost of this project was $180,888. Dinwiddie County received a grant in the amount of $150,000 from the E-911 Services Board, making the County’s net cost $30,888.
For more information on Text to 911 in Dinwiddie County, or to schedule a test of the system using your cell phone, please contact Denice Marrs, Communications Manager, at (804) 469-5388.