Verizon Wireless and Durham North Carolina have partnered to start a pilot that will allow residents to send a text message to 911. The pilot will last for six months and will allow 911 dispatch to handle text based calls in addition to voice. Durham is the first city in North Carolina to utilize the technology and only the second 911 call center in the country to offer text message based services.
The technology is provided by Intrado and sends the text messages to live call takers just as a standard 911 call. The only other city using the Intrado technology is Black Hawk County, Iowa. Durham Emergency Communication Center is taking part of the pilot at no cost and will be working with Verizon to provide text message support.
Allowing citizens to text 911 can be helpful during times when a call might not be possible or for individuals that are hearing or otherwise impaired. Some law enforcement agencies have already started experimenting with text message use in times of situational crisis in order to keep people out of certain areas. However, this is typically one way communication from law enforcement to the individual.
Verizon sent word of the pilot to wireless customers in Durham but also noted that there may be increased response time should an individual use a text message to communicate with 911. It is also critical for individuals to provide location information in the text message and not rely on geolocation from their cell phones.
Verizon will also not be providing free 911 text messages or allowing additional characters so messages sent to 911 by Verizon customers will cost the same as any other text and be subject to fees if necessary.