LEWISVILLE (CBSDFW.COM) – As ghost calls plague the Dallas 911 call system, a neighboring community is on the cutting edge of 911 service.
Denton County’s 911 district was able to receive emergency text messages for the last several months, and dispatchers say they’re having success helping more people.
Since the new system has been up and running, dispatchers said the number of emergency texts is small compared to the overall call load, but a separate screen is now devoted to help those who can’t call.
Dispatchers will always prefer to hear a person’s voice and listen to background noise for clues about an emergency, but 911 texting can be a life saver for some scenarios.
“You might have a situation where someone is being held against their will, and they can’t talk, or they are afraid to talk,” Dispatch Supervisor Angela Wright explained.
Since October, the Denton Area 911 District has offered callers the option of texting 911 in the event of an emergency. A dispatcher will receive the texts on a separate screen at their workstation, and can write back and forth to get more information from the person in need.
“I think always having a secondary route is a good thing,” the district’s executive director Mark Payne said.
In Denton County, Payne points out the dispatchers who receive 911 texts are the same ones who take calls, but in a situation where ghost calls overwhelm a major city, he said the text capacity could potentially provide a workaround for those stuck on hold.
“In a larger community, a metropolitan city, it’s possible you might have dedicated call takers for text communications exclusively, so it’s possible that could be an alternative,” Payne said.
The primary purpose for 911 texts is to serve the disabled or people in situations where speaking could endanger the caller.
“It’s just another way for them to be able to connect to get 911 to get help when they need it,” Wright said.
Payne said the new system cost $2.5 million to put in place and it would cost a lot more for a larger city like Dallas where there is no 911 district, but he hopes eventually everyone will have the ability to text 911.