In an emergency situation, it’s important for people to be able to contact an emergency communications center as quickly as possible. Remember the days when the fastest way to get help on the road was to find a pay phone? Or the scary movies where cutting a landline was all it took to make calling for help impossible? These days, of course, everyone just whips out their cell phone for instant access to 911 services. But lately, there’s been a growing demand for emergency texting services, as well. Is this a trend the emergency communications industry should embrace?
The most obvious benefit of being able to text to 911 rather than call is the fact that it makes the entire process silent. If someone is hiding under a bed or in a closet, even having to whisper to explain the situation to a 911 operator can put them at risk of being found. Having the ability to text their local emergency communications center in that situation would be priceless, and could actually be life-saving.
Texting is also the preferred communication method for most young people today. That familiarity and ease of use make it a good choice for an emergency situation, when stress levels are high, and ease of access to 911 services is paramount.
However, being able to text in a stressful situation can have its drawbacks, as well. In order for current 911 texting technology to work, people would need to dial not just 911, but a county or city prefix as well. This would be easy to forget or enter incorrectly in an emergency.
Another consideration is the fact that emergency operators can obtain so much information from the noise in the background of a phone call to aid in their understanding of the situation. Even the caller’s tone of voice adds to the vital store of details that could help emergency responders be prepared for whatever they’re about to encounter. In a text, they are relying solely on the words typed – nothing additional can be gleaned from them.
Finally, imagine the mistakes and misunderstandings that would plague the system while the technology was being implemented. Unless it was rolled out nationwide, all at once, some people in some areas would have access to the service, while others wouldn’t. People might waste precious seconds trying to text first, rather than call, and then find out it doesn’t work where they are. Or, even worse, they might send a text in an area without the service, and then do nothing else, assuming help is on the way!
While 911 texting technology could be life-saving in some situations, at this point, it should probably only be considered as a fallback tool, when an actual call to an emergency communications center would be impossible. Traditional voice calls provide operators with so much more important information, all of which can be used to help a victim in the moment, and then later, could even be used to help convict the criminal. With such important outcomes riding on the use of voice calls, texts should be used only as an absolute last resort.