Jones Co. unveils text 9-1-1 service

Sheriff Greg Graver
Kim Brooks
Express Editor

     In Jones County, you can now text 9-1-1 in case of an emergency.

     Sheriff Greg Graver said they were anticipating the new technology a couple of years ago when deciding to upgrade the county dispatch center within the courthouse.

     “We were looking toward the future, and new technology coming down the road,” he said.

     Graver said county law enforcement, soon to include Monticello and Anamosa police departments, can take emergency calls through their computer systems inside their squad cars, a program called CAD (Computer Aided Dispatch).

     This texting option is different than the county’s TEXT2TELL program. TEXT2TELL allows people to unanimously text 911 using an app that has to be downloaded onto one’s smartphone. Texting 911 is universal. Anyone with a cellphone can use it, and the dispatcher retains the caller’s number.

     “We wanted to give the public several avenues in which to send information to 911,” explained Graver.

     Both texting options get you in touch with the dispatch center. Using the new texting option triggers the 9-1-1 system within the dispatch center. Those texting 9-1-1 will trigger a different call tone so dispatch knows they’re receiving an incoming text message. Someone at the monitor could be answering an emergency call while typing back to someone on the screen who sent an emergency text.

     “Society is constantly on their phones,” said Graver. “This is just another way to tap in and get information to our officers.”

     Graver there are some cases where a person may not feel safe calling 9-1-1 in certain situations; texting 9-1-1 does not put that person in jeopardy.

     “This way, the caller won’t draw attention to themselves because everyone is texting these days,” said Graver.

     Right now, only Verizon and US Cellular carriers can utilize the texting system. Graver said they are waiting for additional cellphone companies, such as Sprint, to upgrade their equipment.

     Those who try to text 9-1-1 without Verizon or US Cellular will get the following message: “Please make a voice call to 911. There is no text service available at this time.”

     With three 9-1-1 terminals running at the same time in the dispatch center, Graver said they could have three active chat/texting sessions going at the same time. Once the caller or dispatch ends the call a notice will state: “Dialog has been closed.”

     If dispatch feels it’s necessary for the person texting to call in, they will prompt them to do so.

     Jones County is ahead of the curve with the text-to-9-1-1 service, which is just a couple months old. Graver said information from the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) notes that Jones County is the 12th county in the State of Iowa to implement this technology.

     “It’s still fairly new in Iowa,” he offered.

     Graver’s next goal is to have the capabilities to receive pictures and video via cell phone through 9-1-1 texts.

     “We’re just waiting on cell companies to upgrade their technology,” he said. “It’ll be available within the next year or two.”

     Graver said the ability to receive images/video “opens up a lot of great opportunities.

     “Now, we rely on people’s perception and things get lost in translation,” he said.

     If someone were to send an image of a car accident to 9-1-1, Graver said judging by the image, dispatch would know whether or not send out a fire department or call in AirCare.

     Of course, as with any technology, Graver said he is sure they will receive unwarranted text messages. In that case, dispatch has the ability to filter those messages.

     Steph Coffey, the dispatch center’s communication supervisor, explained they can use canned text message copy to move messages along, such as: “Jones County 911, what are you reporting?”

     Recently, Coffey said a 15-year-old male texted into 9-1-1 that he was being harassed by a radio station and wanted help in trying to stop the calls.

     “I told him to call us so we could get more information and had an officer assist him,” said Coffey.

     She advises that when texting 9-1-1, do not use slag words/language, because all of the dispatchers on-call will know what you are referring to.

     “Plain language is always best,” said Coffey.

     She said this technology is just another way to tap into a generation that seems to be consumed by their cell phones.


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