More North Texas cities signing on for Text-to-911

More North Texas cities signing on for Text-to-911

Tanya Eiserer, WFAA

February 3, 2015

SEAGOVILLE — Last week in Seagoville, a woman who needed help didn’t call anyone. She simply texted the word “HELP” to 911.

The reply was immediate: “Seagoville Police Department, what is your emergency?”

Through a text message, the woman explained her boyfriend was screaming. She had locked herself in the bathroom. She feared for her life.

“Because he might hit me,” she said in one text. “He has before.”

“She didn’t want the other party to know that she was calling 911 dispatch,” explained Christine Dykes, Seagoville police support services manager. “We sent police officers out there before the person was even aware that she had communicated with the police department. That saves time, and that actually saves lives.”

Right now, McKinney, Allen, Frisco, as well as several cities in Kaufman and Ellis counties all have what’s called the Text-to-911 service. Dallas and Plano are working on it.

Last year, the Federal Communications Commission imposed a rule that ordered all wireless carriers to make sure their phones had the ability to send emergency text messages. The FCC requires carriers to also provide a bounce-back message if someone texts 911 and the service isn’t available in that area.

“When you take a look at the number of 911 calls coming into a 911 center, about 70 percent of those — and in some cases more — are from wireless devices, so it only makes common sense,” said Brian Fontes, chief executive officer of the National Emergency Number Association. “It will save lives, just on probability alone.”

He said it’s for sure a life saver for the 42 million Americans who are deaf, hard of hearing, or speech-impaired.

In Balch Springs, police are happy to say they have just come online.

“We’re trying to get the word out to the public that we have this available,” said Lt. Mark Maret, the department’s spokesman.

Officials believe the Text-to-911 service has the potential to save lives, particularly in situations where perhaps someone has broken in and the homeowner is hiding from an intruder and can’t safely make a phone call.

The system includes a template that makes it easy for 911 operators to quickly respond with messages like “Get out now” and “Are there weapons?”

“If you need us and you do text us, one of the first things you need to text us is where you are, so we can go straight to where you are,” Maret explained.

Officials advise people using Text-to-911 not to text and drive. They also advise against using abbreviations when texting to 911.

Seagoville began offering the service last summer. One of the department’s first 911 texts was from a Spanish speaker.

“Our dispatcher immediately went on Google translate and was able to translate the text message and was able to send police officers out there,” she said.

That, too, was a family violence related type situation, Dykes said.

In last week’s incident, Dykes said police arrived before any violence occurred. The man was taken into custody on outstanding warrants.

Dykes said she spoke with the woman afterward. She said the woman believed the service had potentially saved her life.

“She was thankful,” Dykes said.

Seagoville police say they have not have had a problem with people using text messaging to report fake emergencies. And if someone does, the law provides criminal penalties for abusing the 911 system.


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