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Queens Chronicle

911 texting service slated for summer

Technology is part of a system that will 'essentially be the future': pol

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Posted: Thursday, November 21, 2019 10:30 am | Updated: 12:36 pm, Wed Nov 27, 2019.

Councilman Bob Holden (D-Middle Village) remembers calling 911 to report a stabbing and the difficulty of trying to explain his location.

“Juniper Boulevard North and 77th Street,” he said.

“Is that Jupiter?” the operator asked.

“No,” Holden said. “It’s Juniper. J-u-n-i...”

Occurrences like that can be limited with the implementation a new 911 text messaging system, which is planned to begin next summer, allowing users to send videos, photos and texts to 911.

It is part of the Next Generation 911 system that “will essentially be the future,” Holden, chairman of the City Council’s Technology Committee, told Community Board 5 during last Wednesday’s meeting. “We should have it already.”

The technology will especially benefit hard-of-hearing residents and victims of domestic violence.

“They can’t just pick up the phone and call without, many times, being heard or abused,” Holden said.

More than 2,000 municipalities and counties in the country have already implemented the system.

“For this city not to have it is ridiculous,” Holden said.

In June 2017, the city announced the text-to-911 service would be available in early 2018, with the full Next Gen 911 system anticipated to launch in early 2022. Now the project is slated to be completed in 2024, according to reports.

Suffolk County became the first major police department in the state with the 911 texting technology in October 2018. Nassau County has had Smart911 technology since 2013, with residents registering a profile so operators know who is calling and not having to delay the response.

Text 911 was implemented in parts of Utah in 2015. Reached by phone, Tina Mathieu, executive director of the Weber Area Dispatch 911 and Emergency Services District, said her center was the first in the state to use it. Her initial concern, she said, was that everyone was going to text instead of call “because that’s the world we live in.”

There was a public education campaign but the overwhelming majority of residents still call.

“I really think that when people are in crisis, they want to talk to someone,” Mathieu told the Chronicle Monday.

She recommends calling unless a perpetrator would be aware of the call. “Call if you can, text if you can’t,” Mathieu said.

Medical emergencies would be an example of a situation where there would be too much of a delay in typing instructions.

“There’s scenarios where it’s OK to text but it’s certainly not the end-all, be-all,” Mathieu said.

Mathieu, who worked on the legislative level trying to secure funding for the project, said there were skeptics when the idea was first introduced to the grant committee but eventually it was approved. Every phone user in Utah pays a 911 surcharge of 76 cents per month.

She spoke of the stress 911 operators face with things they can never forget but at least they don’t witness them. People will be able to send videos and photos with Next Gen 911, however. While dispatchers can prepare police officers and firefighters for what they are traveling to, she said, there’s no preparing a dispatcher for what they may see.

“It’s not going to be surprising to me the day that someone videotapes them committing suicide and sends it in,” Mathieu said. “And that’s what worries me the most about the technology and how we’re going to train for that and handle processing those kinds of calls.”

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