GREENE COUNTY — As local municipalities consider the possibilities of next generation 911 technology, which inlcude the ability to text to 911, not everyone agrees the benefits outweigh the disadvantages.
Fairborn Police Chief Terry Barlow believes technology is driving law enforcement in the direction of sending a text message to 911 dispatchers, and the department is moving toward installing the Next General 911 Systems in fiscal year 2016.
“I envision benefits and complications as with any new way of doing things,” Barlow said. “I see the quickness, the ability for more detailed information, and familiarization with residents texting all the time now. Photographs are another source of information that can be sent.”
The texting option would not only appeal to the large college-aged population with Wright State University being located in Fairborn, but to local high school students as well.
“Our younger generations, because of the advancement of technology, are more apt to text than they are to dial a number to communicate verbally with someone,” said Beavercreek Police Chief Dennis Evers. “They’re going to resort to what they’re comfortable with and that’s probably going to be … a text to 911 rather than contacting through a typical 911 telephone call.”
Some concerns from a police viewpoint are the ability of the reportee to send a legible text in a crisis situation, not having enough initial information, and the time consuming task of the dispatcher sending a text back or having to determine their location.
“In any situation where someone needs to be able to communicate without being heard it would be very beneficial,” said Barlow. “The opportunity for confusion only presents itself when the person is too upset in the crisis that they cannot send legible texts or send too short informational pieces.”
In contrast, Fairborn Fire Chief Mike Riley is not confident that the text to 911 option will be as beneficial for the majority of fire and EMS related situations.
“Technology is always evolving, and texting is how a lot of people communicate but I still believe it’s better to speak,” he said. “From a fire perspective, it’s better to talk to the dispatcher to let them know exactly what you need. In situations where someone can’t speak I can see it as a last resort. Responsive dialogue is necessary to address an individual’s specific needs.”
The Fairborn department is currently evaluating medical dispatching software that allows dispatchers to ask a series of questions where the caller’s specific responses lead to the next question. This helps the dispatcher determine if the caller needs help immediately and what specific type of assist is needed.
“If they conclude it’s not an emergency or desperate situation, the dispatcher can ask more questions to determine which resource or apparatus needs dispatched. If it’s a minor injury or illness there is no need to send an apparatus speeding through town putting others at risk,” said Riley.
The chief’s concerns also include the need for clarification and the increased possibility for information from a simple text to be misunderstood. Another benefit to speaking is the ability for the dispatcher to continue a dialogue with the caller until help arrives, whether to get more information or to keep them calm.
“We have to look at this from a common sense standpoint not just convenience. There are benefits to it but not necessarily something everyone needs. It can’t really replace the spoken word,” Riley added.