In the wake of deadly mass shootings such as the tragedy in Orlando on June 12, several emergency centers are considering the addition of texting capabilities to the standard 911 phone call. The Washington Post reports that people, particularly in hostage situations, are more and more frequently texting loved ones and asking them to call the police because making a phone call might cause the emergency situation to escalate.
Only a small fraction of dispatch centers (650 out of more than 6,000) are currently able to accept texts about emergencies, and officials worry that expanding this service might actually slow down emergency response because civilians would become too reliant on texting rather than calling. Additionally, phone calls make it way easier for emergency dispatchers to get the information they need, officials say. Texting can use up valuable time during a dangerous situation.
There are several pros to the suggested new system, including the ability to send photos and videos of a perpetrator or surroundings, as well as in domestic violence situations where an individual might need to be more discreet, for the sake of their immediate safety, about getting help.
People with disabilities might also have an easier time sending a text compared to making a phone call. People with impaired hearing, for example, have been able to take advantage of the “text-to-911 service.”
Over 150 emergency response centers are reported to add texting capabilities to their facilities in 2016. Hopefully people will use good judgement when it comes to texting 911, and the service can provide faster and more helpful assistance to those who need it until our world becomes safer.