Horry County working on text-to-911 capability

akelley@thesunnews.comDecember 16, 2013 

Horry County is looking into starting a text to 911 feature. Here Brett Wilburn answers calls in Conway on Friday, Dec. 13, 2013. Photo by Janet Blackmon Morgan / jblackmon@thesunnews.com

JANET BLACKMON MORGAN — jblackmon@thesunnews.com Buy Photo

— People who have trouble hearing or speaking soon could have an easier way to contact 911, if needed, in Horry County.

Texting 911, a feature the Federal Communications Commission is pushing to see nationwide, is one that Horry County hopes to have in place in the next year, said Toni Bessant, who oversees Horry County’s 911 center.

“Everyone is moving in that direction or at least has a desire to move in that direction,” she said.

Georgetown County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Carrie Cuthbertson said that agency has no plans to add the feature yet.

Greenville County, the first in the state with texting 911, launched the service in November. Counties in other states started implementing the system as early as 2009, according to the FCC.

Bessant said Horry County has been looking at the technology for a while, but still has questions to answer.

“We would like to be early in the process,” Bessant said. “We don’t want to be the last one on board. But, we need to make sure we’re spending our money wisely and providing the best service for our citizens because that’s what we do.” Horry County hopes to use technology that would work no matter what company is providing the cellular service, although she couldn’t be sure how much that technology would cost.

Greenville County’s text to 911 service is only available to people with Verizon Wireless, the FCC said, and the other major providers – Sprint, AT&T and T-Mobile – have agreed to have such a system in place by May 2014.

According to a report by the FCC in Dec. 2012, officials in Black Hawk County, Iowa and agencies in Vermont, found the texting 911 particularly helpful in domestic violence crimes.

In Horry County texting 911 likely would make it easier for people who cannot speak or hear to reach contact authorities in emergencies. Anyone could text 911 for an emergency, but Bessant said she expects calling to remain the preferred method.

Bessant said proper training, standard operating procedures, and protecting against prank texting, are among issues that need to be worked out in Horry County before the texting service can be launched.

In Georgetown County, the Sheriff’s Office utilizes a texting feature that allows people to send tips about crimes to police. It does not work for crimes in progress.

“Currently there are no plans to answer text 911 messages at the Emergency Communication Center,” said Georgetown County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Carrie Cuthbertson.

Still, she said the Text-A-Tip “is a valuable tool for crime trends or activities which have already occurred.”

Contact AMANDA KELLEY at 626-0381, or follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_akelley.

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