Text-to-911 technology potentially coming to Ames Police


Blake Lanser/Iowa State Daily

The Ames Police Emergency Center has recently received a renovation, including updates to their emergency communications technology. The center will soon be able to recieve text messages as 911 calls.

Stephen Snyder

New technology may soon make it possible to contact emergency operators by text message as well as by voice call in emergency situations.

“The four largest wireless telephone companies — AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon — have voluntarily committed to make texting to 911 available by May 15, 2014 in areas where the local 911 center is prepared to receive the texts,” the Federal Communications Commission said, according to a press release.

One of the centers that will be prepared to receive texts is the Ames Police Department who updated their emergency communications technology as part of a recent department-wide renovation. Some may see this new technology as a luxury, but Ames Police Emergency Communications Supervisor Sarah McClure sees the improvement as a long overdue necessity.

“Text-to-911 would benefit our deaf, hard-of-hearing and those with speech limitations in our community,” McClure said.

While the ability to send text messages during emergency situations is already a huge strain lifted from communicating with 911, McClure said that the improvements do not stop there.

“This technology would also allow a reporting party to send near real-time photos of circumstances. A photo can be shared on the responding officer’s mobile computer and perhaps reduce the risk of further danger or provide vital evidence in locating someone or some property,” McClure said.

This photo technology is already being employed in Chicago according to an article in the Chicago Sun-Times. According to Jose Santiago, executive director of Chicago’s Office of Emergency Management and Communication, the ability for callers to send photos has cut down on confusion when citizens report crimes, as well as when police investigate the crimes.

“Callers have a tendency to get confused or excited during an event, pictures don’t,” Santiago said.

According to McClure, this upgrade is being made available for a wider range of use across the nation due to efforts by organizations like the National Emergency Number Association and the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials to create the safest and most efficient police communication systems.

However, the Federal Communications Commission also stated that even where Text-to-911 is available, if someone is able to make a voice call to 911, and if it is safe to do so, always make a voice call to 911 instead.