Everything you should know about Text to 911 in Boyle

Published 6:00 am Saturday, August 5, 2023

Text to 911 has come to the Danville 911 Center, and is now available in all of Boyle County as of Monday.

Texting 911 is an alternative to calling 911 if someone is in a situation where calling is not their best option. The service should only be used for emergencies. People can report non-emergencies by calling 859-238-1220.

To use the service, people can simply open a blank text message and enter 911 as the recipient, then send a message about the emergency. When someone texts 911, they will immediately receive an automatic response saying “Danville/Boyle County 911, What is the location of your emergency?”

Email newsletter signup

This allows people to respond immediately with more information, and allows 911 operators to get their information out faster. Operators may send some pre-typed messages, such as “Are there any weapons?” or “How is the person injured?”

Phones must have cell service to be able to send 911 texts. Texting 911 is for emergencies only; anyone using the service continuously for non-emergencies can be charged with harassing communications.

Danville 911 Center Assistant Director Melinda Ennis said they wanted to adapt and incorporate new ways to help the community.

“We want to be able to help as many people as we can, so every technology that comes out we’re going to try to jump on board and get going as soon as possible,” Ennis said.

The Danville 911 Center covers the whole of Boyle County, which includes Junction City, Perryville, Parksville, Mitchellsburg, etc. Bluegrass 911 Communications, which covers Garrard, Lincoln Mercer, and Casey counties, does offer Text to 911 as well.

If people are in a county that does not offer Text to 911 and they text 911, they will receive a message saying “Please make a voice call to 911, Text to 911 is not available at this time.” If in another county that does have Text to 911, operators can transfer the text to the agency in that county, just like a call.

Getting the system going was a two-year process. The 911 Center had to find a vendor that would enable their texting software, they had to work in concert with their phone vendors, and the vendor had to contact every cell phone provider that has service in Boyle County to enable the program on their end.

Ennis said there are some limitations to texting as opposed to voice calls, in terms of figuring out what’s going on at a scene.

“We still prefer voice calls, because we get a lot of clues based on who we’re talking to; we can tell in your voice if you’re upset, we can listen to the background noise,” Ennis said. “So we still prefer voice, but we know there’s going to be times that that’s not possible.”

Text to 911 should be mainly for specialized cases, such as if someone is hearing impaired, mute, or during things like a home invasion or domestic violence situation. People should text if there’s an intruder in their home and they need to stay quiet; if they’re with someone who’s being abusive or otherwise scaring them, and they don’t want that person to know they’ve contacted 911; or even if hiding from a shooter.

“Imagine if we did have a school shooting here; [texting] would allow a lot more communication in the building where they’re not putting the children in danger; we don’t want them on the phone, we don’t want the assailants to hear them,” Ennis said.

911 Center Director Rebecca Hafley said another situation where it may be better to text is in reporting a major accident. Hafley said they receive a huge influx of calls when there’s an accident on a busy road, and that if people see a car wreck, it may be better to text 911 so the operators are less overwhelmed and have an easier time finding callers who have more knowledge about the crash.

However, she said they do not condone texting while driving, which is illegal. If someone is driving and has or sees an emergency, they should call 911 or have another person in the car call or text 911.

Another limitation of the service is that people cannot send photos or videos through the texting software. The texting software also does not receive emojis, they come through showing as question marks.

Operators do not use shorthand or texting acronyms like “brb” or “btw.” If someone texts using shorthand or acronyms, operators will ask or verify what they mean.

Hafley said that the Danville 911 Center has had one emergency text since getting the program up on Monday. She said they don’t anticipate too much more 911 usage overall because of the texting service, but she said it’ll depend on what’s happening in the community.

“It’s just another tool in everybody’s toolbelt that we can use for people to get better access to 911,” Hafley said. “It’s always just best to call, even if you can call and get the location out, and set the phone down, we can hear what’s going on.”

Ennis said even some of the larger agencies don’t currently receive many texts, but Hafley believes that the Danville Center may receive more texts than other areas because of the Deaf population in the county.

For many years in order to serve the Deaf community, the center has used a Telecommunications Device for the Deaf (TDD), which is a computer that people who are Deaf can use to type to 911. Now, many Deaf people use Sorenson video relay. DHH people can call the video relay with interpreters on the other end, and those interpreters will call 911 and translate the information.

Hafley said there’s a time delay from getting the translations, and that texting 911 may be a better option for those in the Deaf community. However, the 911 center still has TDD and video relay capabilities.

Ennis said the next big thing for 911 may be implementing video calls in future years. Since the arrival of cell phones, 911 centers have constantly had to adapt to new technology. She said that change is good if it helps them serve the community better, and they look forward to keeping adapting.

Screenshot of a test text to 911. After texting, people will receive an immediate pre-typed response asking their location. The bottom three texts are examples of other pre-typed messages to help operators communicate faster.