A man high on heroin and wanted by police came to his sister’s daycare center. A group of deaf people became stranded in the middle of a lake when their boat’s motor died. A woman was kidnapped by a trucker at a rest stop, sexually assaulted and left in the back of his cab as he drove. In each situation the people involved either couldn’t call 911 or would have put themselves in jeopardy by doing so. They texted. The police came to take the woman’s brother into custody, bring the boaters back to shore, arrest the truck driver and rescue his victim, reports Government Technology. These stories show why it’s important for 911 dispatchers to have the technology that allows them to receive texts instead of just phone calls.
Most dispatch centers in the U.S., called public safety answering points (PSAPs), are not yet capable of taking text messages. Zainab Alkebsi of the National Association for the Deaf estimates that only about 15 percent of PSAPs can take text. Imagine being in the middle of an emergency and being unable to contact 911,” she says. “That is what deaf and hard of hearing people experience when faced with an emergency, and being unable to easily obtain help.” Only about 33 percent of dispatch centers were text-capable in 2018. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says the number of texts sent to emergency dispatchers each year rose from about 1,000 in 2014 to more than 188,000 in 2018. Emergency dispatchers prefer that people call if they’re able to and if doing so wouldn’t put them in danger. Calls often provide a more accurate location to the dispatcher.