Texting 911 from a cellphone now is an option in Franklin County.
The service went live Jan. 23.
“This technology is a huge advancement,” said Franklin County commissioner Marilyn Brown.
She said it would help Franklin County residents have more access to emergency services, and it would help people with hearing impairments and those who are in danger who may not be able to call.
To text 911, users would enter “911” into the recipient field of their mobile device and text a brief but detailed message that includes location and the type of emergency.
Mobile location services aren't included in the texting technology, so locations must be texted manually, according to a fact sheet on the county commissioners' website, commissioners.franklincountyohio.gov.
Texts to 911 can’t be sent as part of a group text message, and emojis can’t be used, said Cecilia Weirick, regional 911 communications coordinator for the Franklin County Office of Homeland Security and Justice Programs.
Dispatchers also cannot receive video or photos, although the capability for that could be introduced in the future, Weirick said. Safeguards would need to be put in place for potential collection of evidence, she said.
“We’re just taking it one step at a time,” she said.
Any phone that can send texts may be used to text 911 dispatchers, said William Griffith, communications-systems manager for the Columbus Department of Public Safety. Four major mobile carriers, Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile, support the service.
The initiative’s website, text911.franklincountyohio.gov, says any text-enabled phone or tablet computer with a data plan that allows texts would work, regardless of service provider.
Phones that aren’t connected to contracts with mobile-service providers wouldn’t be able to text, Griffith said.
If a text doesn’t go through to a dispatcher, the sender will get a bounce-back message, no matter what county they are in, he said.
Certain areas in Franklin County don’t have good cell service, Griffith said.
“The bounce-back is the most critical part of it,” he said.
Those sending a 911 text in a county that doesn’t have text-to-911 capabilities would receive a bounce-back message, although a text has a chance of going through if the sender was on the border of a county with the capability, Griffith said.
As long as texting is enabled on a cellphone, a texter’s area code on his or her phone number would not matter if he or she were texting from Franklin County, he said.
“The service should work anywhere in Franklin County that you have cell service, regardless of where you’re from,” said Tyler Lowry, director of public affairs for the Franklin County commissioners.
Text messages sent to 911 in Franklin County could be received at 911 dispatch centers at any of five primary wireless public-safety answering points, or PSAPs, within the county, Griffith said. They are Columbus, Dublin, Grove City, Franklin County and Westerville facilities, he said.
Dispatchers at any of those five PSAPs can transfer texts to 911 dispatchers in other parts of Franklin County, Griffith said.
Because Delaware County also has text-to-911 capability, texts received at the Dublin-based Northwest Regional Communications Center could be transferred to dispatchers in Delaware County if needed, and vice versa, said Nancy Nicodemus, communications operation manager for the NRECC.
This could be necessary if the texter is traveling in a car while contacting dispatchers, she said.
No other contiguous central Ohio counties have text-to-911 capability, according to a spreadsheet maintained by the Federal Communications Commission and a map provided by Rob Jackson, Ohio 911 administrator in the Ohio Department of Administrative Services' Office of Information Technology. The ODAS map lists a dozen counties as having the capability.
The ability for Franklin County’s public-safety dispatching centers to accept and respond to text messages to 911 is the culmination of years of work by representatives from several communities’ public-safety agencies and other stakeholders within the county, said Jeff Spence, chief of the Gahanna Division of Police.
“It was truly a team effort to bring this emerging technology to our residents in order to provide another method in reaching 911 dispatchers when a voice call is not possible and seconds count,” he said.
Jay Somerville, bureau director of technical services for the Dublin Police Department, said Dublin officials are excited to be part of text-to-911 because it offers a safe alternative when calling is not an option because of safety issues, physical limitations or hearing impairment.
“Text-to-911 is not meant to replace phone calls but gives our residents an option,” he said. “Remember, call if you can, text if you can’t.”
New Albany and all the Franklin County partners have been working closely to come up with a way to be able to implement the text-to-911 program, and New Albany is happy to be a part of the services that will be offered, said New Albany spokesman Scott McAfee.
Gahanna Mayor Tom Kneeland said he has been involved in the text-to-911 initiative since the 1980s and is excited to see it come to fruition.
“Having this new service offers another great option for those seeking assistance in emergency situations to get help when they need it the most,” he said.
The project has been a long time coming and has required technology updates at each PSAP, some of which would have been made anyway, as well as some that were specific to the text-to-911 program, Lowry said.
For more information, go to text911.franklincountyohio.gov.