News : METCOM Launches Text-to-911
Woodburn, OR, USA, Sept 7, 2016 -- Citizens in northwest Oregon with an emergency now have the option of texting a 911 call center if voice communication is not possible.
The Woodburn-based METCOM (Marion Area Multi-Agency Emergency Telecommunications) is one of seven regional dispatch centers in the Portland metro and southwest Washington area to implement the emergency texting program. Although a voice call is always preferable, METCOM director Gina Audritsh said 911 texting capability is a needed feature, especially in remote parts of the county where spotty cell tower coverage makes voice calls difficult.
"We’re really excited that METCOM gets to be part of the pilot program, specifically because we have areas in our service delivery area that people cannot communicate by voice, so we’re hoping that provides them the ability with text messages," she said. "And then we also have a large deaf and hard of hearing community."
Audritsh said a few examples of when texting might be preferred to a voice call include a home invasion where the caller is afraid the intruder might hear them speaking on the phone or when a passenger in a vehicle with a drunk driver doesn’t want to be heard notifying the police.
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The drawback of course is that texting back and forth takes longer to communicate important information. Audritsh said dispatchers often pick up important information just from the tone of a caller’s voice and situations they hear occurring in the background.
"It’s really important people understand that a voice call is much more efficient and effective than texting," she said. "When we have voice communication we can interact directly and we can ask and get the answers to the questions we need immediately."
Audritsh said METCOM and other 911 centers plan to continue educating the public about when emergency texts are appropriate.
"I think we will see people who are used to texting everything they do in their life that they’d rather text than make the phone call," she said. "I think we’ll see that with our youth, just because it’s a new generation."
Texting 911 makes it more difficult for dispatchers to map the caller’s location. Landline calls to 911 are instantly located on a map. Voice calls from cell phone can be located to within 50 meters, giving emergency responders important information. However, Text-to-911 operates on a separate system, and its locating accuracy can be anywhere from a few blocks to a mile.
"The key message is always know your location, "Audritsh said.
"Our goal was to make this as seamless as possible and as identical as we could to a voice call," Audritsh said.
It’s too early to tell how successful the 911 text program will be, but METCOM has already received about half a dozen emergency texts. A few turned out to be non-emergencies; two were notifications about drunk or erratic drivers.
Some things to keep in mind if placing a 911 text:
A message containing multimedia such as photos, videos and emojis will not go through.
Always provide accurate location information.
Do not use abbreviations or "text speak" like "TTYL," as they may not be interpreted correctly.
Text in English, if possible. Dispatchers will do their best to assist those texting in a language other than English using Google Translate.
To place an emergency text, enter 911 without dashes between numbers.
Oregon helps fund its 47 911 call centers through a monthly 75-cent tax on landline and cell phone customers. Costs of the Text-to-911 program are met through that tax revenue.
In addition to METCOM, other participating Text-to-911 agencies include Astoria 911, CCOM and LOCOM in Clackamas County, CCOM in Columbia County, BOEC in Multnomah County, WCCCA in Washington County and CRESA in Clark County, Wash.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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