Local police departments implement new 9-1-1 texting option

The Paradise Valley Police Department is among emergency dispatch centers in Maricopa County trained to take 9-1-1 texts. (File photo)

A new service launched in April to provide Arizonans within Maricopa County another option to contact 9-1-1: through text message.

The text to 9-1-1 service successfully launched county-wide on April 2 with a motto: “Call if you can. Text if you can’t.”

The feature will make it easier for those with hearing and speech impairments to contact and communicate with their public safety departments when a crisis occurs, Paradise Valley Police Department Lt. Michael Cole says, as well as provide a line of communication for domestic violence victims or those worried about being heard by an assailant while in imminent danger.

“It is always best to call. When you call we keep an open line, can trace the call, and can hear what is going on. The only time we would recommend texting 9-1-1 would be for the hearing impaired community or if you are in a situation where speaking would put you in jeopardy,” Mr. Cole said in an emailed response to questions.

The launch of the service is through collaborative efforts of the Maricopa Association of Governments, Maricopa Region 9-1-1 and other public agencies working with members of the disability community, the Arizona Center for Disability Law and the National Association of the Deaf.

“Technology often opens doors and makes life easier, and texting to 9-1-1 will allow people who are deaf, hard of hearing or speech impaired to summon emergency services, report crimes, and summon aid for others,” Arizona Center for Disability Law Legal Director Rose Daly-Rooney said at a press conference held on launching day, April 2.

Public safety officials advise residents not to test the option, as Paradise Valley and Scottsdale police departments have tested the feature.

Scottsdale Police Department Dispatcher Chelly Maniuszko takes emergency calls and texts.

“We have received many test texts over the past two weeks making sure the new system worked and the dispatchers were fully trained on how to use it. We have not received any real 9-1-1 text messages yet,” Mr. Cole said. “Everything went seamlessly.”

Lt. Cole said the Maricopa Region 9-1-1 had a soft roll out of the program before the announcement and spent the last couple of weeks testing the program with all of the Public Safety Answering Point centers “so we knew everything worked and the dispatchers were trained.”

He said 9-1-1 dispatchers are thoroughly trained on the new system and its software enabling texts from callers and available to assist with the text to 9-1-1 function.

“In our agency we typically have only one dispatcher working at a time so they are doing everything in the dispatch center,” Lt. Cole said, explaining the process that required sending a text and addressing it to 9-1-1 in the subject line.

On the dispatcher’s end, he said, it opens up a window that allows them to text back-and-forth on their computer. They can also transfer the text to another fire or police jurisdiction if necessary just like they can transfer 9-1-1 calls.

However, if you can make a voice call to 9-1-1, and it’s safe to do so, you should always make a voice call instead, officials recommend.

“We always prefer being able to speak with a person when possible. There is some risk with an open line that the location may not be completely accurate. If a person is able to speak and can call, that is the fastest way to get help. If that is not possible, sending a text is another way to make sure to get the needed help to the right location,” said Officer Kevin Watts of the Scottsdale Police Department in an emailed response to questions.

Police department representatives in the Town of Paradise Valley and Scottsdale confirmed the benefits of the service allowing call takers to receive texts 24 hours a day.

Mr. Watts also said Scottsdale’s operators tested the system with each other, officers, and a group of citizen volunteers for several weeks before the system went live and “as a result we were ready for the first day.”

“Scottsdale has received one emergency text to 9-1-1 from a member of the deaf/hard of hearing community,” Mr. Watts added.

Follow the link below for detailed instructions on texting 9-1-1:

How_to_Text_to_911

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