Texting 911 an option

Cuyahoga County residents now have the option of texting 911. Doing so only makes sense for the hearing impaired or in a situation where keeping silent is prudent.

CUYAHOGA COUNTY – Cuyahoga County residents can now contact dispatchers without saying a word.

Texting 911 is an option, although dispatchers hope residents seeking help would dial 911 first.

To send a text to 911 in Cuyahoga County, just put 911 where you would normally put the phone number for a text message. After you type in your message, a dispatcher will write back asking for your location. The dispatcher will also ask if it’s possible for you to call. If it’s not possible to call, the dispatcher can type responses back to you or simply click on a series of responses and questions already loaded into the computer to save time.

The instances where texting 911 make sense is for someone who is hearing impaired or if there is a situation, such as an intruder in one’s home, where being silent is prudent.

“It’s always better to have voice communication and a two-way conversation so we can get accurate information and ask questions. The caller doesn’t know what we need to know,” said Strongsville Safety Director Charles Goss.

If a 911 call is made from a LAN line (hard wired phone) the dispatcher automatically knows the location of the caller.

When a person in any of the communities served by the Southwest Regional Dispatch Center (Berea, North Royalton, Olmsted Falls, Strongsville) dials 911 on his or her cell phone that call goes to CECOMS, the county dispatch center. The dispatcher will ask for the location and issue. The call is then transferred to the Southwest Regional Dispatch Center.

“There are ways of tracking it down, but it isn’t immediate and isn’t accurate. When you dial 911 you should be talking to the person who is going to help you. You shouldn’t be talking to a third party and waste time trying to get to the dispatch center,” Goss said.

The local dispatch center is lacking in the ability to identify where a cell call is coming from, according to Goss.

“Technology exists that we need to catch up to. If you call Domino’s Pizza on a cell phone they know where you’re at, but if you call 911 they don’t. There’s something wrong with that. We should have that capability but right now we’re behind the curve,” he said. “We tell the schools to dial 238-7373 so it goes right into the dispatch center instead of calling 911. It kind of defeats the plan. There’s some work to be done.”

There is a solution to the situation, however. A product called RapidSOS, which can be downloaded from the Internet for free. The app provides a direct data link from not only cell phones but millions of devices to 911.

“If more and more people would use these apps it would benefit them,” said David Sems, communications and technology director with the city of Strongsville. “When they have this app it will work anywhere in the country. Hit the button and it will connect to the local police immediately.”

Software is under development where callers would not have to download RapidSOS. The timing of rolling out that technology is up in the air.

“The software will be ubiquitous to the phone. It will be integrated into the phone so when you dial 911, it automatically does this. It’s not currently in the phones but is in the works,” Sems said.

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