Text to 911 could launch in 2016

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COLUMBIA - In the event of an emergency, many call 911 for help. That, however, is tough if the person is deaf or hard of hearing. Things could get easier soon, since Joint Communications in Boone County will be offering text to 911.

"Text to 911, I think, will be very successful and very effective for some individuals and it will also help to provide a balance for all the different needs that we see in the deaf community," said Opeoluwa Sotonwa, executive director for the Missouri Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

Joe Piper, the acting director of Joint Communications said the service would also be helpful for someone in a situation that talking over the phone could place them in more danger, such as having an intruder in the house.

The technology should be available in Boone County once Joint Communications moves to its new facilities in 2016, Piper said, which is around the time all the cell phone carriers will be required to offer the text to 911 service.

But, both Sotonwa and Piper have concerns about the technology.

Piper wants to be sure the new technology does not mean delays in responding to emergencies.

"Our primary concern would be what impact will this have on call processing times and will we have the staff to accommodate the number of increase, if there is an increase, in the number of 911 calls because of the text. We just simply don't know," he said.

Sotonwa worries responses to texts would be delayed.

"Would the text be received in the amount of time that would be equivalent to a hearing person that would call 911," he said. "So that would be my main concern, just to make sure that the response time is accurate."

Piper said that's a hard question to answer.

"I think the jury is still out on that," he said. "From what I can tell, centers who have implemented the text to 911, they do see, on average, a seven minute call processing time, compared to a voice call and a two minute processing time, so I think it's yet to be seen whether that's going to increase, a) the number of calls we're going to get, and b) you know, how long it does take to process that call. "It could be that it could have an impact on times."

Piper said he wonders about the impact of the texting tendencies of younger people.

He said the addition of text to 911 will require additional training for the staff, but he does not know if additional staff will be needed.