By the Marin Independent Journal Editorial Board
In a common-sense move, several Marin emergency agencies are accepting 911 texts, enabling people who can’t make a phone call to get help.
The change recognizes that texts may be the only way some people can contact police or fire departments for help. In some cases, where cellphone reception is weak or non-existent, people can still seek emergency aid by texting.
Officials, of course, would rather get phone calls, which provide dispatchers with more direct contact with the caller, enabling them to more readily get the information needed for emergency responders or immediately provide important help for the caller until responders show up.
In addition, text messages don’t provide a GPS-tracked precise location, unlike calls from cellphones or landlines. That makes it essential for those texting for help to also include their addresses or locations when reporting emergencies.
Dispatchers are also going to have to be trained to use texting and monitor the platforms being used to accept 911 texts.
Text message emergency calls have been accepted by the California Highway Patrol for about a year. Other counties are already on board and it makes sense for the same service to be available countywide.
The California Governor's Office of Emergency Services, which is funding the improvement, estimates that 74 percent of the state’s communication centers are already equipped with “text-to-911” technology or are in the process of launching it.
The Marin County Sheriff’s Office Communications Center, which provides dispatch for most of Marin’s police and fire agencies, is moving in that direction, possibly having it available starting in June.
The Fairfax, San Rafael and Novato police departments have opted to move forward now.
Besides providing help for those who are hard of hearing or speech impaired, 911 texting could be lifesaving for those who cannot safely talk on the phone due to the circumstance of their emergency, such as reporting an intruder. But hitting three numbers and “send” could save their lives, connecting them to help.
It is a service that shouldn’t be used as a replacement for making a 911 call, but instead when making a call is impossible or when texting for help is the only viable and safe option available.
This service will soon be available countywide.