“People who are in situations where they can’t call 911 can text,” said Ingham County dispatcher Brad Richman.
On Jan. 16, Ingham County citizens to texting in emergencies, rather than just calling.
After working at the 911 Central Dispatch Center for more than 10 years, Richman is one of the first employees to work with text 911.
The main purpose of this new function is for those with disabilities when they need police, firefighters or emergency medical services. Along with that, it helps people in situations where calling is not an option. The addition is helpful, but there is still a lot to figure out in terms of response time.
“There is a lot more grey area,” said Ingham County Sheriff Scott Wriggelsworth.
Texting makes it a bit more difficult for dispatchers to completely understand what the person needs. If a text comes in with just a name and address asking for help, Richman said it is impossible to understand the seriousness of the situation.
“If somebody walks into a bank with a gun and robs the bank, somebody texts versus calls, it takes so much time to get the description and relay the information,” said Richman.
It affects the law enforcement officers in a situation similar to this, and more minor incidents, because they will not always know the severity of the scene they are walking into. The function is helpful when the situation requires it to be, but it is more time consuming.
“When someone texts me, I can see their phone number, their cell phone carrier and of course the text of their message,” said Richman.
Although that information is important, dispatchers are trained to ask certain questions to gather more information about the situation. That is not possible through a simple text message.
The fire department encounters some of the same issues.
“We do not have any contact with the caller,” said Lansing Fire Department Capt. Jim Cherry.
This is the same for all who are sent to the scene of an incident. Dispatchers are the only people who speak to the caller, making the timeliness of the information a very important step in receiving help.
“It probably affects the fire department the greatest in what we call EMD, which stands for emergency arrival dispatch, which is pre-arrival medical instructions,” said Richman.
These are situations where people need or need to understand how to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). When firefighters are tending to an actual fire, the texting is a resource that has not yet been used when contacting authorities.
Although the texting does not directly affect responders, it does lengthen response time, and it is not encouraged unless necessary, according to Richman. In a technological generation, texting is a go-to, but not in an emergency situation.
Texting 911 should be a last resort, according to Wriggelsworth.