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article imageAfter Orlando, more U.S. jurisdictions considering texts to 911

By Arthur Weinreb     Jul 6, 2016 in Technology
In the wake of the mass shooting in Orlando last month, more American jurisdictions are considering allowing people to text 911 rather than call. But there are downsides to implementing texting as well as obvious benefits.
After Omar Mateen opened fire in the Pulse nightclub in Orlando on June 12, many patrons hid in places such as washrooms. Not wanting the shooter to hear them talking, many texted friends and family members telling them there was a shooting in progress and asking them to call police. Orlando does not have the capability to allow people in trouble to text 911 in an emergency when it can be dangerous to talk.
According to the Federal Communications Commission, out of 6,000 dispatch centres in the United States only 650 have the technology that permits citizens in trouble to text 911. After the Orlando shooting that saw 49 people killed and 53 wounded, many jurisdictions are now considering adding this technology or speeding it up where it was already being considered.
In addition to sending text messages, people will be able to send pictures and videos to emergency personnel.
The proper use of texting 911 is not restricted to horrific events such as the shooting at the Pulse nightclub but could be used in domestic violence situations to prevent the abuser from knowing police are being contacted. It should be used in all situations where being overheard on a phone can constitute a danger or at least be counterproductive.
In April, Digital Journal reported about two children, ages 12 and 14, who were in the backseat of a car driven by their father. The kids realized their dad was drunk and after one too many close calls, they texted 911. They then told their dad they were hungry and got him to stop at a restaurant. The 14-year-old then texted their location to 911 and officers arrived and charged the father with DUI. The car happened to be in one of the few areas of Nebraska where texts can be sent to 911.
Texting would also benefit people who are hearing impaired or who have speaking disabilities and are unable to use a phone.
But there are downsides. The New York Daily News reports New York City is at least two years away from implementing texting because of needed changes in infrastructure and a lack of funds.
Sending pictures and videos slows down the system that can result in slower response times by police, especially in major cities. As well, unlike telephone calls, texts do not pinpoint the location of the sender. Anyone who texts 911 must provide their location in order to get help.
There is no shortage of people who call 911 in situations that are not only not emergencies but are not even police matters. For example, there was a Florida woman who called 911 when the McDonald's restaurant she was in had run out of Chicken McNuggets. While it would only take a human operator seconds to realize this was not an emergency, a text with a video of the McNugget-less restaurant would have the potential to slow down the system that should be handling real emergencies.
Many jurisdictions that currently have texting use the slogan "Call if you can, text if you can't" to encourage people to call if they are physically able to do so and talking on the phone presents no danger.
More about 911 calls, Texting, texting 911, orlando mass shooting
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