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Texting 911 can see delays in emergencies

Posted at 5:24 PM, Jul 14, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-15 10:23:13-04

Johnson County Dispatch sees about 10 text messages to 911 for help monthly, yet relying on a text can be tricky for those trying to save lives.

"When you text, we don't know if a person is actually receiving our text, we don’t know if they disconnected, we can't gain pertinent information from what’s happening in the background of a call," said Lt. Scott Boden with the Johnson County Sheriff's Office.

The reason: unreliable cell service.

“If the carrier can’t determine the location of your device, then the message isn't going to go through," said Hassan Al-Rubaie with the Mid-America Regional Council.

MARC helps local dispatchers control their text to the 911 system. With the help of MARC, 41 Action News put the system to the test. It took 13 1/2 seconds for the text to be received, and 11 seconds for a 911 call to go through.

"I'm comfortable with 13 seconds," said Al-Rubaie.

If cell service is bad, the text maybe delayed or may not go through at all. Plus a text cannot track a person’s location.

"We know what tower it came from, we know the general coverage area of that tower, but we can’t determine the actual location or that caller or that texter," said Al-Rubaie.

Law enforcement says texts to 911 should only be used as a last resort - for example, when you don't feel safe speaking. If you can speak, 911 is a direct line to help.

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Ali Hoxie can be reached at ali.hoxie@kshb.com

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