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Walton County Sheriff's Office: New "Text 911" Program

Walton County Sheriff's Office will soon launch a new program called 'Text 911' and only a handful of agencies in Florida use this program (reported by News Channel 7 Panama City). 'Text 911' will allow Walton County Sheriff's Office dispatchers help residents in need. For the past (3) three months, Daniel Carroll, the 911 Coordinator with the department, has been working with the state to bring this program to Walton County. "I currently have the four major service providers; T-Mobile, AT&T, Sprint and Verizon, and SouthernLinc joining us," said Carroll to the reporters.  Sheriff's officials say this is an invaluable asset for victims who are in a situation where they can't call 911, maybe because they need to stay quiet.  It is just another tool to help deputies find the person in need.

So how does it work? Officials say if you're in the Walton County area, Text 911 and it will send you to the Walton County Sheriff's Office dispatch center. Right away, the dispatcher will text you back and ask for your location. And if you don't know your location, there is still a way to get help. "We would respond please call 911 immediately and then we would be able to ping their cellphone, hopefully find out their location, the direction they were going, things like that," said Paige Kypfer, a Communications Officer with the department.  Walton County Sheriff Michael Adkinson says this program should help a lot of people. Sheriff Adkinson says, "...even better, this program does not cost the taxpayer a dime." Apparently the cellphone companies assessed a fee many years ago that assist with programs such as this one. The Sheriff's Office says that they must coordinate with all of the phone companies and the state before they can launch the new service. They expect to have everything up and running in 60 - 90 days.

You might ask why we need the ability to text 911. The 911 system was designed for landline telephones, transmitting the call and location instantly over a hard-wired connection. The problem has come as many of us have dropped our land lines and just have cellphones. Today's cellphone system does not automatically send location data when you dial 911. It is a lengthy process. The phones turn on location capabilities automatically when you dial 911. After the call comes in, the dispatcher's computer transmits a digital request to the cellphone network seeking the phone's location. The data exchange can take seconds or even minutes. Sometimes, it doesn't return a location at all. The most high-tech 911 centers automate the process, digitally requesting the location every few seconds. If the system can't locate the device, cellphone carriers' systems will use nearby towers to estimate. These methods sometimes do not give location information. Often, 911 calls end before that digital back-and-forth yields a specific location for emergency responders.

Calling 911 is still the preferred method as there could be a delay in transmission. Texting does require a lower signal strength however people need to remember that Text to 911 is currently available in certain markets were 911 call centers have elected to accept emergency text messages from people. If you choose to text, remember to keep your text brief, concise but without abbreviations. Also, remember phones that are "roaming" won't be able to text 911.  And phones operating in 'WiFi mode only' won't work either. If you don't have a text plan, you can't text 911 (unlike voice calls, which always go through to 911 even if the phone has no voice plan).

Click here to learn more about Text 911: http://www.fcc.gov/text-to-911





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