Hillsdale County Central Dispatch is now capable of receiving emergency Texts-to-911 when citizens are unable or it is unsafe to make a 911 voice call.
Director of Hillsdale County Emergency Management Douglas Sanford said the system to receive Texts-to-911 has been live and testable since the first week of Nov. 2018, and the public was notified about the system Jan. 1, 2019.
“We have wanted to bring this here for a long time,” Sanford said. “Over half of the counties in Michigan now have the capability to text, and we are glad we’re one of those counties.”
Sanford said when someone texts 911, there’s a special ringtone that goes off in the dispatch office. Next, a page opens up on the dispatcher’s computer screen, so the dispatcher can see who’s sending the text and what the message is.
At this point, Sanford said there has been no emergency use of the texting.
“I think we will see what every other county has found out,” Sanford said. “People really understand that they need to call, so they only text if that’s their only option.”
The City of Hillsdale Police and Fire Chief Scott Hephner said he believes the biggest benefit of Texts-to-911 comes from a law enforcement perspective.
“If you have an intruder in your house, now you can turn down your phone volume and send an emergency text without being noticed,” Hephner said.
Hephner also said anybody with a hearing or speaking disability can benefit from emergency texting.
“It’s an enhanced level of 911,” Hephner said. “These are all advancements to help serve our community.”
According to the City of Jackson’s Deputy Fire Chief, David Wooden, Jackson County is currently working on implementing a system similar to Hillsdale County.
“We’re just a few months behind them,” Wooden said. “It’s probably one of the biggest leaps of improvements, from an information technology standpoint, toward helping the safety of our communities.”
Sanford said he suspects a higher number of college students will use emergency texting compared to the general population due to relative age and technological expertise.
Additionally, Sanford said people are less likely to send emergency prank texts compared to emergency phone calls. Phones that are turned off or not on a contract, and even prepaid phones without minutes left, can still dial 911. People cannot text 911 with phones under these same conditions.
“You can’t text unless you have prepaid minutes or a valid plan,” Sanford said. “Yes, you can certainly prank text us and try to do something, but we know who you are.”