911 text service unveiled in Delaware County

By D. Anthony Botkin - [email protected]

Delaware County Commissioners have approved a five-year service agreement with West Safety Solutions Corporation to provide Text-to-911 service to the county’s 911 Center.

Patrick Brandt, Delaware County Emergency Communications director, told commissioners Monday, “That system is up and live as we speak today.”

Brandt said the 911 Center staff is trained and are ready to move forward with the service, which allows the public to communicate with the county’s 911 dispatchers during an emergency in which they may not be able to talk by sending a text message to the phone number 911. The service also aids senders with hearing or speech impairments.

“Text-to-911 calls can be made into the county through all four major carriers,” he said. “We’ve tested it. We’ve been certified by West (Safety Solutions Corporation) to provide Text-to-911 service.”

Brandt said the four major carriers are Verizon Wireless, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint. He said Sprint is the only carrier able to send text, short videos, or pictures to the 911 Center.

“The 911 Center still prefers everyone to call 911,” he said. “However, Text-to-911 will definitely give us more options.”

Brandt said Delaware County is either the 10th or 11th county to provide the service to its residents. He said a majority of the counties providing Text-to-911 are located in southwest Ohio with a couple in the northeast.

“As we say in our industry, it’s always preferred to call,” he said. “Call if you can, only text if you can’t.”

Brandt brought up May 12, 2017, the day of the shooting in the Village of Kirkersville when the police chief lost his life responding to a shooting and hostage situation.

“They didn’t have Text-to-911,” he said. “When the officer was shot, he left his cell phone open so the dispatchers could hear what was being said.”

Brandt said even if the person on the other end isn’t speaking, the dispatchers can hear what is going on and relay the information to the first responders.

Brandt added if an emergency situation requires the person texting to remain quiet, they should call 911 and leave the line open so dispatchers can hear what is happening. He said the dispatchers can assist by relaying that information to the first responders.

He said that the accuracy of locating a sender using a cell phone isn’t precise.

“Under FCC rules and regulations, anything can be from 50 to 300 meters,” he said. “That’s a pretty big distance when you’re trying to find somebody, so we need to know their location.”

Brandt said if the service goes down or a carrier has an issue, the person texting will receive a bounce-back message informing them they must call the 911 number.

“We’ve tested that,” he said. “We have dual redundant links coming in if some failure happens or the carrier has an issue. It does give a little bounce back.”

Brandt said the county 911 Center has coverage throughout the county, except for the portions of Columbus, Dublin, and Westerville that lie within Delaware County. Brandt added he was in the Polaris area, tested the system via text, and got the bounce-back message.

“That was correct,” he said. “That’s not our service area. It’s the City of Columbus.”

Brandt said the accuracy of a sender’s location depends greatly on the building’s structure, the weather conditions, and available cell tower service.

“Therefore, it will be essential for a Text-to-911 sender to provide as much location information to the dispatcher as possible,” he said.

“This additional 911 service will mean a lot to our hearing-impaired residents and those visiting our county who may be hearing impaired as well,” said Commissioner Gary Merrell. “It is important to Delaware County to protect all of our residents and visitors.”

By D. Anthony Botkin

[email protected]

Contact D. Anthony Botkin at 740-413-0902. Follow him on Twitter @dabotkin.

Contact D. Anthony Botkin at 740-413-0902. Follow him on Twitter @dabotkin.