The town is now the second place in the Triangle where residents can send 911 emergency text messages, and others in the region will be able to do it soon.
The program, known as “Text-to-911,” enables people to open a new text message and enter “911” as the recipient and then indicate their exact location and the nature of their emergency in the text message.
Doug Workman, the town’s emergency communications supervisor, said the agency decided to implement the program after “a big push from the National Emergency Numbers Association” to make sure 911 centers across the country provide the best services for the deaf and hard of hearing.
Nearly 60 percent of the more than 67,100 emergency calls to the Cary Police Department last year were made from mobile phones. Town officials note that about 99,200 Wake County residents are deaf, hard of hearing or speech disabled.
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“We also realize that some people aren’t able to talk because it may be a kidnapping, a burglary in progress or a domestic issue,” Workman said.
But town officials still urge people to call 911 when it’s safe and practical to do so, because communicating by text message is slower, particularly if a dispatcher needs to ask questions about the emergency.
“They are still going to want detailed information, so they will ask for pertinent information for our first responders,” Workman said. “There will be a lot of text messages back and forth. That could prolong the emergency response for you. Call if you can, text if you can’t.”
Cary now joins Durham in offering the 911 text option. Durham was one of the first municipalities in the country to use the technology, starting as a trial with Verizon Wireless customers in August 2011, said James Soukup, the city’s emergency communications director. The other major carriers came on board in 2013 and 2014, Soukup said.
Text-to-911 is offered county-wide in Durham.
The Raleigh-Wake emergency communications center, which handles most emergency calls in the county, obtained the technology in April and expects to roll it out to the public over the next two weeks, said Dominick Nutter, the center’s director.
Mary Anne Averette, a supervisor with the Orange County 911 Center, said the agency has the technology for its residents and will implement the program “soon.”
Cary officials noted that the system currently does not allow residents to send images or video, but Nutter said those options will be available in the next generation of 911.
“Right now you can text 911, but in the future you will be able to send pictures and other data,” Nutter said. “Texting is part of a broader concept.”