The Larimer Emergency Telephone Authority, which manages emergency services dispatch for all first responders in the county, unveiled the new technology over the summer. It’s as simple as filling out “911” in the recipient field.
“People do prefer (texting), so we’re glad to have that extra lifeline,” LETA Executive Director Kimberly Culp said.
It’s more than just good for those more used to hitting send than talking on their phones. It makes emergency reporting easier for those with hearing and speech impairment, for those in situations where they might not be able to talk and for those with limited cellphone service.
Culp shared stories of it already helping people the way it was designed: A hiker without voice call service got a message through about someone shooting a gun near a trail; another got a text through when she feared an intruder broke into her house.
Culp and Larimer County Sheriff’s Office spokesman David Moore said they want people to call 911 when they can and use the text system only when they must. Speed of communication and clarity are among the perks of verbal communication in an emergency situation.
“We don’t want people to text just because it’s convenient,” Moore said. “You can’t get voice inflection or someone’s trembling voice through text, and our dispatchers are trained to pick up on that and relay it to our emergency responders.”
While Larimer County was one of the first counties in the state to fully integrate text messaging into its 911 dispatch systems, Culp said emergency responders don’t want to stop there. With communication technology making photos and videos instantly available, she said she wants to make sure emergency dispatchers can keep up.
Now, the hold-up is cellular service providers, she said. Those with Sprint can send photos to 911 dispatchers, though it’s not immediately available. Culp is keeping her eye on that technology so Larimer can add it when it comes online. But it’s also a problem of making sure dispatchers get data that are useful, while avoiding the salacious, inappropriate and unnecessary.
“Pictures speak a thousand words, we all know that,” Culp said. But it’s not as simple as a single picture, she said. “We’ve got to come up with a solution to filter and control all the data that could come through.”