Springfield’s 911 call center can now receive emergency texts from people who can’t call in for help. Director Zim Schwartze says she still wants people to call 911, but for those who can’t speak or hear, this is another option.
Emergency text messaging is offered in 16 of Missouri’s counties. Springfield-Greene County 911 Emergency Communications Department has formally implemented “Text-to-911” capabilities for rare cases when people are unable to communicate audibly via telephone.
“It was important to prepare and bring this capability to our area to add another way to contact 911, especially for the speech and hearing-impaired community,” says Zim Schwartze, director. “When a response is needed from police, fire, or emergency medical ambulance personnel, you can now text ‘911’ and your message will be delivered into our phone system. We will be able to text a response and determine what assistance you need.”
Schwartze, who’s the former Columbia 911 center director, says that voice 911 calls are still the preferred method of receiving emergency calls so the telecommunicator can talk with the person. The slogan “Call if you can, text if you can’t” is exactly what Schwartze wants the community to remember. Other tips include knowing your location, being brief, using plain language, and avoid abbreviations so the telecommunicator clearly understands what is occurring.
Nearly 22,000 emergency calls come into the Springfield-Greene County 911 Emergency Communications Department monthly, with 82% originating from mobile devices. Nationwide, the number of wireless devices being used has increased dramatically. In turn, the percentage of wireless 911 calls has increased steadily, up from 58% a decade ago in the Greene County area. Recognizing this increasing number of wireless calls led the department to implement “Text-to-911” capabilities for the area.
In 2017, the 911 Telecommunicators in the Operations Center fielded 501,692 total phone calls (emergency and non-emergency) with just over half as 911 emergency calls.
To date, Missouri is the only state that does not collect any fees or tax money from wireless usage to help fund 911 dispatch centers. Several state 911 organizations continue to work towards a goal of passing statewide legislation regarding wireless funding. This legislation hopes to help many dispatch centers who struggle with appropriate funding for 911 services and assist the 16 counties that do not have any 911 call-taking equipment in place.
By Nancy Simpson of Missourinet affiliate KSGF in Springfield