My wife brought something to my attention the other day that made the color drain from my face. I began to research it, and this sensation transformed into sheer terror.
According to Urgent Communications Magazine online, Durham, NC has officially made texting 911 a reality.
Yes, that's right. Texting.
How this escaped my radar, I'm not sure (Rocco, I'm looking at you). Apparently, this has been in the works for over a year, says Gizmodo. However, Verizon has been running this particular pilot/trial program in North Carolina for the past year, and has decided to continue the "text-to-911" offering for all of their providers within the Durham area.
James Soukup, the director of the Durham Emergency Communications Center (ECC), went on record for Urgent Communications, saying:
"It’s definitely not going to be a burden on any 911 center anywhere, because the public is smart enough not to text you for things you need an emergency [voice call] for."
Seriously? What kind of people live in Durham? I need to move there; and if they're that smart, MENSA headquarters should relocate as well. I don't know, Mr. Soukup; maybe it wasn't advertised well enough, or perhaps there aren't that many system-abusers in Durham. (In the same article, Soukup admitted the possibility "…that Durham’s low number of texts to 911 can be attributed to the fact that many people still are not used to having the option.")
I don't see this ending well for major urban areas. The call takers (not to mention us folks responding to the actual "emergencies") are overloaded enough, and you'd like to add texting to it?
Talk about upping the public's convenience level, and lowering the amount of information received by dispatch.
A point I will concede: yes, it would be a lifesaver if there was any situation in which speaking aloud is either not feasible (mute/deaf individuals), or unsafe (your hostage takers probably don't want to see you on the phone, and I doubt they'd believe you were calling your great-aunt Edith).
The only saving grace, however, could be the prohibitive cost of building this capability into an already-existing response system. John Merklinger, president of the New York State 911 Coordinator's Association, estimates that purchasing and maintaining the current software could cost a single county up to $150,000 per year (via WNYT).