DODGE COUNTY -- The Dodge County Sheriff’s Office has announced customers of the four major wireless carriers (AT&T, Sprint, Verizon & T-Mobile), along with US Cellular and Cricket, can now send text messages to 911 in Dodge County. It allows folks to reach emergency responders without ever speaking a word.
You may remember the story involving the domestic violence victim who called for a "pizza delivery" in an effort to get help during an attack. The story prompted a commercial that aired during the 2015 Super Bowl.
Cell phone users in Dodge County can now send text messages to 911. It can help in situations where folks aren't necessarily able to talk on the phone.
When you send a text message to 911, a special sound alerts the dispatcher to that text message.
"It gets them prepared that this is a text, and we need to do things differently," Lt. Christine Churchill with the Dodge County Sheriff's Office said.
The text conversation pops up on the dispatcher's screen.
"The first thing we always want to prompt them for is an address. We need an address to get you that help," Lt. Churchill said.
Once dispatchers have that address -- a squad is dispatched.
Officials say the more detailed your text, the better.
"If there are weapons involved, if there is alcohol involved, if there is anything actively going on at the time," Dodge County Sheriff Dale Schmidt said.
Texting could be the best option for a victim of domestic violence, or during a home invasion.
"They may have the perpetrator near them," Sheriff Schmidt said.
This can also be helpful when it comes to those who are deaf or speech impaired, or for those in areas with poor cell service, where a voice call may not work -- but a text message will.
"The Text-to-911 will come in anywhere that reaches a tower where we are the Public Safety Answering Point," Sheriff Schmidt said.
There are more than 6,000 PSAPs (Public Safety Answering Points) in the nation and the Dodge County Sheriff’s Office is one out of approximately 900 of those centers to voluntarily offer this new service.
Less than 15 percent of emergency communication centers nationwide have the text to 911 feature.
In Wisconsin -- it is only available in Dodge County, Dane County and Rock County. Officials in Manitowoc County are considering it.
This program is expensive.
It cost Dodge County about $200,000 to replace the aging 911 system to one that's text compatible.
While Text-to-911 is now available, it is not intended to replace a voice call to 911. A voice call to 911 is still the quickest, most efficient way to reach emergency help.
Text-to-911 is intended for:
- Any person who is deaf, hard of hearing or speech impaired.
- Any situation where a person could be in danger if someone hears them placing a voice call, e.g., domestic violence or home invasion.
- In an area with poor cell coverage where a voice call may not work, but a text could.
Wireless customers in Dodge County should keep the following in mind when sending a text to 911:
- While deactivated cellphones work for making voice calls to 911, wireless customers must have a texting plan in order to Text-to-911.
- Texting to 911 is the same as texting anyone else. Just type 911 in the “To” field (no spaces or dashes) and begin the message.
- Providing location information and nature of the emergency in the first text message is imperative, since the Dodge County Sheriff’s Office will only receive an approximate location of the cell phone.
- Text-to-911 should only be used for emergency situations that require an immediate response from police, fire or emergency medical services. Non- emergency issues should still be called in on the Dodge County Sheriff’s Office non-emergency line:920-386-3726
- Text-to-911 currently uses (SMS) short message service (basic text messaging) so there is a 160-character limit per text. Also no pictures or videos at this time.
- Text abbreviations or slang should never be used as it can confuse the 911 call taker and potentially delay emergency response.
- Because Text-to-911 uses existing cellular towers within Dodge County to route the text to the Communications Center, if a person sends a text in a border area, the text may be routed to another county, just like a wireless voice call to 911. If the other county does not provide Text-to-911, the person will receive an automatic bounce back message from their wireless provider advising them that Text-to-911 is not available and to place a voice call to 911.
- Roaming is currently not supported for Text-to-911. Therefore if a customer does not have wireless coverage within Dodge County they will receive a bounce back message from their provider advising them to place a voice call to 911.
"Call if you can -- text if you can`t," Sheriff Schmidt said.
The police response will always be quicker with a phone call because typing is time consuming and texting doesn't always paint a clear picture of what's going on.
"So much of what we do is by hearing those sounds, by getting that information, by being able to immediately get the answers," Churchill said.
But when there is no other option, a text message could be a victim's last hope when it comes to getting help.
"That caller may have otherwise been to afraid to call," Churchill said.
As it relates to this new program, Dodge County Sheriff's officials say they have dealt with prank text messages -- which they take very seriously.