Emergency Services Director Dean Meadows says he is “actively pursuing” text-to-911 technology for Wyoming County.
Text-to-911, not yet widely available nationally, would allow persons in emergency situations to to send a text to a 911 Center in circumstances where phone calls may be inadvisable or not available.
“I would like to work on (implementing it) within the next year,” he commented.
The technology isn’t cheap, he pointed out.
“It would be very expensive,” he pointed out. “To upgrade our equipment, you’re looking at six figures.”
“We are working on something regionally to where (several counties) could all serve off of one server,” Meadows said.
Adding the technology is not a matter of “buying a cell phone and texting someone,” he explained. “It’s a lot more involved and the technology has to be there on everyone’s part.
“I’ve been to some demonstrations and I’m super impressed with the technology,” Meadows commented.
“I know there are some counties that are looking at it,” said Sheriff Randall Aliff.
Kanawha County is currently testing the technology and is expected to become the first in the state to offer it in a month or two, Meadows indicated.
“Some other counties are looking at it,” he noted.
Funding would come from the portion of wireless fees and landline fees that the 911 Center gets from the state, Meadows indicated.
”The County Commission realizes if the need should arise, that it might have to foot part of the bill,” he said. “We’re working to keep that from happening.”
“We’ve been made aware that it’s coming,” stated County Commission President Jason Mullins. “We’re really interested in staying on top of technology.
“As soon as it’s available, we want to lead the pack,” he remarked. “It’s not just young people who text, it’s people of all ages. We try to spend our money wisely so that when something comes up that deals with public safety, we can help out.”
Mullins said “there are lots of times we can send text messages, but you can’t get a call out.”
Meadows says he sees the advantages of text-to-911 in this area.
“If somone is in a dire situation where they have to be quiet and can only text and not be heard (the technology would be good),” he noted. “With cell phone coverage the way it is in Wyoming County, sometimes there is enough (signal) strength to text and not talk.”
“If someone was off alone in the woods and something happened, it could be a way to get them help,” said area resident Doug Thorn.
“Because of our terrain, text messaging may be the more viable option (in some circumstances),” Meadows observed.
While text-to-911 will provide another tool in emergency rescue situations, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recommends that voice calls be made to 911 if it is safe to do so—even if text-to-911 is available.
John Conley can be reached at 304-732-6060 or on Twitter @PIHnews.
Photo: Dispatchers at the Wyoming County 911 Center in Pineville at work.