Will County (Ill.) to Offer Texting 9-1-1 Service
Next spring, Will County (Ill.) residents will be able to call 9-1-1 without saying a word.The county soon will become the second in Illinois to offer an expanded emergency service that will allow residents with cellphones to text 9-1-1 to any of the county’s six dispatch centers.
“This is really a big step for the deaf and hearing impaired. They have been pushing for it,” said Caryn DeMarco, public education coordinator for the county’s emergency telephone system board.
Nationally, there have been incidents in which persons were abducted or held hostage and could not call 9-1-1 out of fear of being heard, but there have been no such situations in Will County, DeMarco said.
Northwest Central Dispatch in Arlington Heights began the 9-1-1 testing service about six months ago, said Steve Figved, administrator for the emergency telephone system board (ETSB).
The program will be rolled out gradually, with Will County’s hearing-impaired being served first, followed by schools and college campuses and then the general public, Figved said.
But only those cellphone users who are served by one of the four major carriers – AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile – will be able to text to a emergency dispatcher, he said, and the texting will work only within the county.
Figved said the ETSB is working with the Federal Communications Commission to make the service available to all cellphone carriers. He also would like to see surrounding counties adopt the texting system, so it can be offered regionally and possibly at a cost savings.
For now, the cost to the county’s system is a one-time fee of $400 per dispatch center, or $2,400, Figved said.
ETSB officials hope to begin internally testing the system with their dispatchers in January and February before offering it to the public.
Dispatchers will see the text message on their screen and will type questions and answers in response. Figved said the system may be programmed to generate automatic questions, such as “where are you?” and “what is your emergency?”
Whether texting or calling, cellphones do not provide exact locations, and dispatchers will continue to depend on the caller to provide that critical information.
DeMarco and Figved stressed that a person needed emergency help should always “call 911 if you can and text if you can’t.” That will be the message emphasized as Will County starts a public education campaign on this new emergency tool.
“It is always faster to talk than to type,” Figved said.