The Hillsdale County Central Dis­patch allowed the Col­legian to send a test text to 911 to see how the system works. Collegian|Julia Mullins

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.”