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The 911 operators at the Stone County Emergency Services are all highly trained to handle all the types of calls that come in to 911.

In case of emergency, Stone County residents now have the ability to reach 911 emergency services by text messaging. 

According to a press release from Stone County Emergency Services, they have officially announced the upgraded texting to 911 service after using and evaluating the service for almost a year. The service is now fully operational and is working as designed. 

The 911 center in Stone County began receiving text messages from texters, who wish to remain anonymous or those being threatened by a nearby suspect in 2020. Some of these texts have aided law enforcement with apprehensions and some case charges have been filed, according to the release.

“We have already had several texts sent to the system, in the last year, and are happy with the result,” said Stone County Emergency Services 911 Executive Director Keith Kinnard. “We had a text to 911 situation not long ago, where a person was texting so her abuser wouldn’t hear her talking to our dispatcher. It made it safer for her to call and the abuser was arrested as a result of her texting.”

There have been few instances, in the past when voice services were not available or the call was dropped because of spotty mobile phone service in the area. In some of these instances a text has been able to go through, according to the release. 

“This service helps in situations where there may not be a good signal for a voice call,” said Kinnard. “If you are in an area with bad service, or no voice service you can still text 911 for help.”

According to Kinnard, the texting does take a bit longer to get responses from the caller and it does come with a disadvantage for first responders who are going in without ears on the scene. 

“Law enforcement always goes into a situation somewhat blind, because you never know for sure what you have until you are there and have eyes on the scene,” said Kinnard. “When we have a voice call, our operators are trained to listen to the background noises to help identify what the first responders may be going into.

With the texting we don’t have that advantage. We have to get all of our information from what someone texts to us and sometimes that makes it difficult to know what we are sending our responders into. The other disadvantage is how fast we get responses through text. Typically texting responses takes longer than it would for them to tell us what is going on.”

Despite these issues, Kinnard believes this will help the community in the situations where it is safer for the caller to text. 

“Sometimes if a suspect becomes aware that someone has called 911, the situation can escalate quickly,” said Kinnard. “In cases where there is an immediate danger, being able to silently let 911 know what is going on can save lives.” 

According to the release, with the new technology the 911 center is better equipped to handle emergency situations with persons with disabilities in an expedient manner. For many years the 911 centers have only had teletypewrtiters (TTY) or telecommunication device for the deaf (TDD) machines to communicate with the deaf or disabled population. These machines operated on a home based phone system and if the disabled person was driving they had to use a relay service to call 911. Texting to 911 not only provides the caller with a mobile connection, but also a direct service to 911 that cuts the delay in response times. 

“The TTY or TDD machines are not mobile,” said Kinnard. “They are home-based machines and if a person was not at home and had to call 911, they had to go through a relay service in order to communicate with 911 operators. This caused a big delay and in an emergency situation, every second counts. The new texting to 911 system alleviates the need for the relay which will help us get help out to our disabled citizens faster.”

According to Kinnard, this texting to 911 isn’t new in a lot of the country but because of the cost involved with the new system, a lot of smaller counties and communities haven’t been able to afford to put it in place.

“It was very expensive to be able to get everything set up for this system,” said Kinnard. “I know a lot of big cities have had it for a while and it has helped their emergency centers to be able to serve their citizens better. We are very proud that we have it now, and are sure it will help us improve response times and help us get help to those who need it.”

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