911 Texting Could Come In Athens By The End Of The Year

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The final computer upgrade needed to implement 911 texting was approved Tuesday by the Athens County Commissioners, but don't try texting the emergency communications center just yet.

"By the end of the year is what we're looking for, but there's a lot of stuff to do before then," said 911 Director Dan Pfeiffer.

On Tuesday, the commissioners authorized the expenditure of $50,760 for the computer upgrade.

Besides doing the upgrade, there will have to be testing done and training of dispatchers, Pfeiffer said, adding that there also is a need to educate the public.

"You don't text just because you can," Pfeiffer said, explaining there are several reasons why voice communication is better. More information can be given quicker, the inflection of the caller's voice can tell the dispatcher something about the situation and the dispatcher might be able to hear background noise that is relevant, Pfeiffer said.

He said there is concern the three dispatchers on duty at the 911 Center could become tied up with more time-consuming texting.

Hocking College and Ohio University have large numbers of students for which texting is a daily part of their lives. Also, 70 percent of the calls the 911 Center receives are made from cell phones, so there is potential for a lot of texting to 911.

"We need people to call if they can call," Pfeiffer said.

There are situations were texting may be necessary, Pfeiffer said, such as if there is a need to be quiet because an intruder is in a home, or if the person needing help is disabled or injured and can't speak.

Making Athens County's 911 system ready for texting has been in the works for several years.

"We've been working on it since 2012, but were waiting on the wireless telephone companies," Pfeiffer said.

Four major cellular companies – AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon – voluntarily committed to providing text-to-911 service by May 15, 2014 in all areas served by their networks where a 911 call center is prepared to receive texts, according to the website of the Federal Communications Commission.