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911 Call Centers Need Major Upgrades, Funding To Receive Text Messages

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DALLAS (CBS 11 NEWS) - For younger generations, texting is a way of life. It’s how they make plans, share gossip, and it’s how many would expect they could make a cry for help.

During the 2007 shooting spree at Virginia Tech that left 32 people dead, many students in hiding later told the National Emergency Number Association, or NENA, they had texted 911.

“Many of the students who had texted during the incident believed that their texts had gone through – and help was on the way. They had no idea the text was never received by the 911 center,” said NENA Vice President Christy Williams.

In reality, the vast majority of 911 centers nationwide cannot receive text messages.

A survey in Dallas-Fort Worth area last year found 30 percent of adults between the ages 19 and 49 believed they could text 911 today. During emergencies, people have tried to.

In four days during and after Superstorm Sandy’s landfall last year on the East Coast, there were 130 Attempts made in New York state alone to text 911. Every single attempt – failed.

“They take it for granted – their expectation is they can text 911,” said Williams.

Advocates, like Williams, have been fighting to implement the technology.

“A hostage situation, a domestic violence situation, anytime when it is unsafe to speak, texting 911 becomes a lifesaving feature,” she said.

A pilot program in Black Hawk County, Iowa, found domestic violence victims felt safer reaching out.

“I don’t want him 2 hear me cause I don’t want him more agitated,” one person texted 911.

The most heart wrenching victims, though, were the little ones.

“My dad abuses me,” one child wrote. “He pulled a knife on me,” the boy texted, all while sitting quietly in a car with his father.

By the time the two reached home, police were waiting for them.

The FCC reached an agreement recently with cell phone companies to offer nationwide texting to 911 by this time next year. 911 centers, though, will also need to upgrade for it to work. They say, a lack of government funding has been their greatest obstacle.


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