GOSHEN — Like 2 txt? Residents in Elkhart County can now text their emergencies to 911, but officials encourage people to continue calling whenever possible.
The Elkhart County 911 Center is one of several agencies that now offer the Text-to-911 service. INdigital Telecom, a company based in Fort Wayne, designed, built and operates the IN911 network for the State 11 Board, which provides service to 911 agencies throughout the state.
Verizon Wireless is the first carrier to provide service with the help of TeleCommunications Systems. Three other carriers -- T-mobile, Sprint and AT&T — have also committed to provide service.
The Federal Communications Commission wants all other wireless carriers to provide the service by the end of 2014.
The Elkhart County 911 Center started to provide out-bound texts about a year-and-a-half ago. When calls fell through, the center would text the caller asking if they had an emergency.
It took residents in the county a while to realize the texts they received from the 911 center were legitimate, said Todd Anderson, assistant director at the county 911 center.
“A majority of people thought we were joking,” he said. “It’s kind of funny. People would send all us sorts of things, call us names, curse at us thinking it was a joke from their friends. But as time went on, we got less of that.”
The Text-to-911 service will be helpful for people with speech or hearing impediments and those who may be unable to speak due to a medical emergency. It might also be helpful for victims of home invasions, abductions or other crimes in which talking could jeopardize personal safety.
But the communications center lists several reasons why it’s best to continue calling 911 for emergencies when possible. Texting is not always instantaneous, and it may take longer to dispatch emergency services because of the time involved in texting, getting the message to go over the network, having the dispatcher read the text and texting back.
“The technology is another means to receive help, but we still strongly encourage people to call if at all possible. Our dispatchers can learn so much more about a situation being able to receive information and speak directly with a victim, witness or bystander,” said Egbert Dijkstra, the county 911 center director. “Think of it this way: ‘Call if you can, text if you must.’”
Anderson said that in a way, a call can tell a dispatcher more than a text.
“The only downfall you’re going to have is when you talk to someone on the phone you hear emotion, you hear background noise, you can tell the severity of things just by the tone of the voice,” he said. “On text you can’t have that.”
Eventually, all Indiana counties will join in to provide the service. Many still need the resources to upgrade their systems, Anderson said.
But in Elkhart County, dispatchers are hopeful their services will continue to grow.
“In the distant future, people will be able to send pictures and video of accident scenes. And we’ll be able to attach that to the file and send it to officers,” Anderson said. “Our system is set up. When the service becomes available for the carriers, then we can try that out.”