Major cellphone providers to enable 911 texting by May 2014

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. - The Federal Communications Commission announced last week all four major cell phone providers -- Sprint, AT&T, Verison, T-Mobile -- will enable 911 texting capabilities by May 2014, but local dispatchers say the system needs a lot of work. 

Susan Myers has been on the receiving end of 911 calls for more than 13 years. She is currently a senior dispatcher for the Overland Park Police Department.

"We have callers who are extremely upset, hysterical, yelling, screaming," Myers said. "With texting, you don't get that voice infliction that we sometimes rely on."

Myers said setting up a text option for 911 would slow down the speed at which she could help someone as well as make it much more difficult to walk a caller through any first aid procedure.

"I don't know how that would work," Myers said. "I'm assuming that is something the department would have to look at policy wise: How we would handle it, how (texts) come in?"

Overland Park Police Chief John Douglass said texting can have its advantages for the hearing impaired and for people in extreme danger.

"If you're a person who's been abducted in the trunk of a car, you can text your message," Douglass said.

However, he too said a fool-proof system for the department is far from reality.

"You're not talking to a person on the other end where you know I've talked to you and you get an immediate audio response," Douglass said. "You're firing a message and hoping you get a response. You need some way of verifying."

Douglass said another disadvantage of texting is police will not know the location from where the text was sent. With calls, dispatchers can see what address the call was made from.

Myers said texting will also impact the amount information that can be relayed.

"It would limit the information we could get from callers, and sometimes that's what keeps our officers the safest," Myers said. "The more information we have, the safer  they are. The safer they are, the more they are able to help the citizen."

Douglass said if and when a system is in place to to effectively take 911 texts, citizens should only send a text if making a call is not possible. 

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