WOODWAY (March 3, 2014) The Woodway 911 Center is testing a program that allows residents to text emergency messages to dispatchers.
The center is working with Verizon Wireless in testing the system, which would allow residents in situations in which they can’t speak, such as a hostage standoff or a home invasion, to communicate with emergency dispatchers.
The system is also getting high marks from those in the deaf community.
Brent Burns, who has been deaf since birth, says he welcomes the development.
"I think it's a great idea,” he said.
Text-to-911 allows Burns and others who are hearing impaired to text on the go without locating a phone and using a special communication device like a TTY or teletypewriter.
Woodway is the first center to try the program and dispatchers are learning there are some kinks to work out.
Officials say during 911 voice calls, the dispatcher can gather information by talking to the caller and listening to the caller's environment.
They can’t do that with a text.
They can sometimes pinpoint a cellphone caller's location on a voice call, but cannot with a text.
The time it takes to relay messages could be a concern for both sides.
"I can see some problems like some may not have access to text. Also some concerns with timing,” Burns said.
"When you send a text you don't know how long it's going to take to get through,” said Robert Leathers, program operations manager for McLennan County 911
“You can actually have one text get dropped or a portion of the text get dropped and the second half arrive before the first part,” he said.
Also depending on the location of the cell tower someone texting information may or may not be routed to the correct 911 Center.
By the end of the year, the three other major wireless providers should have the service.
In May, Leathers say the Woodway center should be able to receive 911 texts.
Residents who send an emergency text in an area that does not have the capabilities to receive the message, or whose providers don’t support will get a bounce-back messages saying " For emergency only. CALL 911. Text-to-911 not available."