By Carson Gerber Kokomo Tribune
---- — Verizon cellphone users can now send text messages to the 911 dispatch centers in Miami and Tipton counties, but the service won’t be up and running in Howard County until later this year.
The Indiana Statewide 911 Board officially launched the service for Verizon customers on Wednesday.
T-Mobile, Sprint and AT&T have also voluntarily committed that they will provide the service later this year, according to an Indiana 911 press release.
The Federal Communications Commission has mandated all other wireless carriers to provide text-to-911 by the end of the year.
The service is currently now available in Miami and Tipton counties.
In Howard County, 911 officials have applied to join the state system, but are waiting for state approval before launching the new service, said Nick Capozzoli, director of the Howard County 911 Communications Center.
He said the county waited to join the state system because the county currently uses AT&T, and officials anticipated the service provider to offer 911 texting with the state’s launch of its system.
When the county realized AT&T would not join the state’s system right away, Capozzoli said they decided to apply for the service even though it is currently only offered to Verizon customers.
He said the Howard County 911 center has purchased all the necessary equipment to adopt the new system, and should get the state’s approval to launch text-to-911 in the next 30 days.
After getting approval, Capozzoli said the county’s 911 center will only send out-going texts to silent or hang-up calls for 30 to 60 days so operators can get accustomed to the new service.
“We’re not sure how overwhelming this will be for our operators, so we’ll take some time to get used to it,” he said. “This is pretty new territory, so we’re trying to judge how to launch it based on what other counties have done.”
The 911 center should be able to receive incoming texts by the fall, Capozzoli said.
In Miami County, the texting service likely won’t get much use in the near future, since the majority of the county isn’t covered by Verizon, said Miami County 911 Director Cliff Gardner.
He said the majority of cellphone users in the county are covered by AT&T. Once they get on board with the state’s system, Gardner said he anticipates the texting service will get much more use.
Even though text-to-911 is now available, the Indiana Statewide 911 Board said communicating with 911 dispatchers by voice is more effective than text-to-911. Using text should be limited to the following circumstances:
When calling 911 is not possible, such as if the caller is deaf, hearing- or speech-impaired.
If a caller is otherwise unable to speak, because of a medical condition such as a stroke.
If speaking would be unsafe, as in the case of abduction or home invasion.
Texters should also be aware that providing location information and the nature of the emergency in the first text message is imperative, since the Indiana communications centers will receive only an approximate location of the cell phone, and will not be able to speak with the person sending the text.
Text abbreviations or slang should never be used so that the intent of the dialogue can be as clear as possible.
Customers must also be in range of cell towers in the area. If customers are outside or near the edge of a county, the message may not reach the emergency communications center.
Carson Gerber can be reached at 765-854-6739, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @carsongerber1.