BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
LEE COUNTY – An official with Lee County’s LeeComm, the emergency 9-1-1 service, announced today that cellphone users with three major carriers can text 9-1-1.
LeeComm Director Shanna Krogmeier, said this morning that Lee County now has the service for Verizon, U.S. Cellular and AT&T customers. She said other providers will probably come on line in the future.
“We were one of the last ones in the state to get it, but Iowa’s light years ahead of most states in offering the service,” she said.
“I definitely see Sprint and T-Mobile service being available, but there’s no time frame on those. We’ve had Verizon capability for a month or so, but we were waiting for the other major carriers to come on so we didn’t have to do three different releases.”
According to a release from Krogmeier, Texting 911 is as simple as putting “911” in the “To:” line of the text message. From there, dispatchers receive and can respond to messages from the computer much like utilizing an instant messaging service. The person texting 911 can then communicate with the dispatcher via text.
US Cellular and AT&T customers can also send photo and video messages to dispatch, though they are not instantly available.
“While this service is a valuable addition to our current 911 system, it is important for the public to understand there are some limitations to it. First, it is always preferred to speak to the caller in person. Call 911 if you can; text if you can’t. Texting 911 does not give an accurate location like calling from land lines or wireless lines do. Like all text messages, 911 text messages can take longer to receive or may be delivered out of order. Text to 911 is not available if you are “roaming” and a text or data plan is required. The public is also reminded not to text and drive, regardless of the situation.
Overall, this service provides a lifeline in situations where help is needed but the victim is unable to speak on the phone. While there are some limitations to the service, it is a valuable addition to the services provided by LeeComm.
Krogmeier said during testing there were no problems with texts appearing out of sequence, but she said it could be possible if three or four texts were to come in close together.
“In our testing we haven’t had a problem. It’s very much like a text or instant messaging and our dispatch people are able to type back in the same manner,”
She said there is no additional cost to the county and no infrastructure by the county was needed. However, CenturyLink had been working on the capabilities for a while.
“We haven’t had to do anything. CenturyLink had been working on it since November before I got here, but they ran into some tactical issues that delayed it a bit,” Krogmeier said.