Texting 911 now available in 3 Ind. counties

(WISH Photo)

TIPTON, Ind. (WISH) – Getting help during an emergency used to require calling 911, but now people can send a text message.

It might not be as fast or detailed as calling 911, but dispatch services say it’s about time.

“When the text first comes through it will show us that it’s in Tipton and it has a pretty large radius,” Chuck Bell, Tipton County’s Communication Director, said.

Tipton County is one of the first to activate “Text-To-911.”

“Once you ask for that help our next question is immediately going to be ‘what’s your location’ because we need to know your location so we can get you help. That’s probably the most important part of that text,” Bell said.

After that, more detailed questions will follow. During 24-Hour News 8’s test, the text message took less than 15 seconds to send.

“Beginning Wednesday, Hoosiers and visitors to Indiana can use their Verizon handset to get emergency help from their local 911 center,” Barry Ritter, Executive Director of Indiana State Board 911, said during a press conference at the State House on Wednesday.

Unfortunately, not all 911 centers are on board. Marion County’s dispatch service hasn’t signed up for Text-to-911 yet.

24-Hour News 8 even tried sending a text message, but the reply told us to call instead. Police said in Tipton County, calling 911 is still the preferred method during an emergency.

“You can’t beat the voice communication because we’re able to ask a lot more questions quicker. Get more exact answers,” Bell said.

Since 75 percent of emergency calls already happen by cell phone, sending a text was only a matter of time.

“I think texting 911 just provides that extra layer of public safety,” Bell said.

Right now, only Verizon customers can successfully send a 911 text. Sprint, T-Mobile, and AT&T should be on board with the service in a few months.

Other counties besides Tipton that can receive those texts include Fayette and Bartholomew.

The service was designed to help the hearing impaired, but also those that may be witnessing a crime and don’t walk to make any noise. Police said this is especially important during severe weather season.

Bell said when tornadoes hit Indiana’s northern counties last fall, several people were trying to make calls which overloaded cell service, meaning the calls wouldn’t go through. Now, dispatch centers would actually be able to receive text messages if a situation like that happens again.

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