By Rachel Dove and Hayley M. Cook
WILLIAMSON – Advances in technology have seen many changes throughout the years, some of which are considered vast improvements that have made life a little easier. The prospect of a text-to-911 service, however, promises to make life a little safer.
Three major wireless phone companies have voluntarily committed to offering a text-to-911 service, while Verizon is currently functional for 911 texting in the region. The FCC has required these services be provided by all companies by the end of the year.
When asked about the necessity of such a service, opinions from local residents were mixed.
Some of the favorable comments included examples given by West Virginia Supreme Court worker Beth Branham, who said, “A person can’t always speak when they’re in danger. A perfect example would be a school shooting or getting caught in a robbery. Speaking would place them in even more danger. Money well spent, in my opinion.”
Renea Dove agreed, and offered another example, saying, “We have family members that are deaf. Being able to text would be great.”
Not everyone thought the idea was worthwhile, however. Some members of the community expressed a more negative view of the text-to-911 function.
Former ARH nurse June Jude stated her distaste for texting to 911 in an emergency.
“The time it takes to text the info could mean your life,” Jude said. “An emergency call to 911 is supposed to automatically send notification to the dispatcher. … A system is needed that will benefit everyone, not just the people who love texting just for texting’s sake. ‘Just spend more money’ seems to be the trend today. We need to be frugal in our spending.”
When asked for his opinion concerning the possible addition of texting an emergency call to the proper authorities, Mingo County Sheriff James Smith said he is all for it.
“As the sheriff, my No. 1 priority is the safety and welfare of the residents of this county and our visitors,” Smith said. “Any new technology that can be put in place that will get law enforcement or emergency personnel to someone in need of help is a great thing.
“In today’s world, the majority of people are tech-savvy and have cell phones,” he said. “If this feature is added to our 911 service, I think it will be well received by the public.”
Lorene Vance, interim director of Mingo County 911 Emergency Services, said that she feels the option to text in cases of emergencies is an absolutely wonderful idea.
“There are situations and circumstances when this service could easily save a life,” Vance said. “For instance, during a domestic problem, it’s generally easy to sit with your cell in your hand and text without raising a red flag to your abuser, but if they hear you calling for help, that could be the trigger to cause further harm or even death to the victim.”
Vance also pointed out that there are times when a text will go through in areas where cell service will go through when a call will not. She spoke of a scenario where, for instance, someone may break into a home and the victim is forced to hide in a closet or basement, and they know that if the intruder hears them speak it will disclose their location.
“In my opinion, 911 texting services would offer yet another means to contact us in case of an emergency and would be a great asset to the public, as well as law enforcement and first responders,” Vance said.
“It would not ever replace the traditional phone call for help but would offer another valuable alternative to the residents of our county,” she said. “If 911 texting could improve our current service to the public and keep them safe, I am definitely in favor of it.”
Regardless of how anyone feels about it, it seems the text-to-911 function will go into operation by January 2015. Although both sides raise valid concerns, ultimately the safety of the public will override all opinions.