System Available To Many Cell Customers In County
Darren Doyle, story and photos:
The Edmonson County Dispatch Center now has the capability of receiving text messages for 911 emergencies thanks to new technology in the county's radio and communication systems.
While the feature is brand new and is still a work in progress, Edmonson is now one of only a handful of counties in Kentucky with 911 texting capability.
Edmonson Dispatch Director Pat Prunty said upgrades made to the county's emergency communication system two years ago included the technology needed in order to use the service; however, the availability of such a service recently became available.
"You simply type 911 into the line that says 'To:' and then your message," said Prunty. "The text message comes through the internet here and we're able to respond to you through our computers."
Although Prunty said he didn't expect a large number of 911 texts to local dispatch, the feature could provide emergency assistance in various circumstances.
"We'd obviously encourage calling 9-1-1 in the event of an emergency when one can talk because we'd rather speak directly with a person to better understand the situation, but this can be used by those with speech or hearing disabilities, or other types of emergencies where talking isn't an option."
He said some of those situations could be if someone is being held against their will or where someone in danger is hiding and doesn't want to be heard.
"God forbid we ever have a school shooting emergency here, but if that's the case, a student or teacher could send a text without making a sound. Plus, most kids can send text messages without even looking at their phones," he added.
Prunty said the system is still undergoing testing and there are still some issues that need to be addressed. During recent tests, AT&T cell phones were the ones that worked with the least amount of problems. Bluegrass Cellular phones only worked with the phone's wi-fi turned off.
In our office, where we have Bluegrass service, we tested the service with two phones: an older iPhone 6 that worked well (with wifi off); however, a new iPhone XR did not work at all. Prunty said engineers say newer iPhones are having trouble working because of the newer technology in the devices themselves, not the communication systems at dispatch; however, carriers are reportedly working to solve these issues as soon as possible. In the event a text will not work, one will receive the following text reply:
"Please call 911 in case of emergency. Text to 911 service is not available. Your message has been discarded."
The feature is text only--no videos or photos can be sent and the signal must be bounced from an Edmonson County cell tower. Those trying the feature near a county line where the cell signal may hit a tower in another county will not be able to reach local dispatch with a text.
"The system is not perfect and not fully functional yet as we need it," Prunty said, "but we're working with engineers to get everything working properly. Many can use it right now and that's what it's about--providing more ways that can help Edmonson County residents in times of emergency."
Edmonson County's Dispatch Center has four dispatchers and receives a total of 10,000 calls per year, according to Prunty. Out of those calls, 5,000 are to 9-1-1. The center also handles over 10,000 radio transmission per year, Prunty said.