Texting To 911 Put To Reality Check

Thursday, August 20th 2009, 11:31 pm
By: News On 6

By Lori Fullbright, The News On 6

TULSA, OK -- There's a new way to get help during an emergency.  Waterloo, Iowa, is the first town in the U.S. that allows texting to 911.  Other cities are thinking about following suit, but Tulsa isn't one of them.

Don't look for Tulsa's 911 center to accept text messages anytime soon.  They don't have the equipment or the staffing and there are more important reasons they say calling is still the best way to get help in a crisis.

At Tulsa's Marilyn Ihloff salon, texting is the preferred form of communication for many.  But, when it comes to an emergency, it's not what pops into mind first.

"I don't think I would ever use it even though I only communicate through text messaging. I don't like to use the telephone. In that case, I'd be too nervous to text it out.  I'd have to call.  I'd be too nervous," said Kim.

"I probably wouldn't use it. I think it's great to have the service, it's a good idea.  But, if I'm really in an emergency, like somebody is stabbing me, I'm not gonna text out, oh my gosh, come get me, I'm at 15th and St. Louis.  I will be on the phone calling," said Colbie.

However, some people think if a small town in Iowa can offer it, surely a city the size of Tulsa should, too.

"I think it's a great idea. People are put in situations where they're not able to pick up the phone and talk. Someone is in your house, hiding, you could just text it in, I think it's a really good idea," said Troy.

It is not an idea whose time has come in Tulsa, however.  The 911 center says it would be great for people who have hearing or speech impairments, but they already have special equipment for those needs.  They say there's a lot more involved in 911 calls than just sending help.

"They help you before the ambulance gets there. They may talk a caller through an emergency childbirth or CPR and you just can't do that via text, chest compressions, monitor breathing. Being able to hear is priceless and saves lives," said EMSA's Tina Wells.

Dispatchers also listen for what's going on in the background of a call, like screaming, glass breaking or shots being fired, so they can make sure the paramedics aren't walking into a dangerous situation.

The company behind the 911 texting technology says 911 could one day receive photos or video, which might help emergency responders prepare for an accident scene or identify a suspect.

The problem currently is many kids already think you can text 911, so parents need to make sure their kids know the best way to get help is the pick up the phone and call.