Updated Pickerington, Violet Township 911 system would accept texts
A Pickerington mother, whose plea for emergency help this spring could not initially be heard, has motivated city officials to upgrade services so messages can be sent via the 911 emergency phone system.
In mid-March, Danielle Cramer was driving on Hill Road after picking up her 5-year-old son, Michael, from a karate lesson when she was overcome by an asthma attack.
She was able to pull into the parking lot of a business at 1045 Hill Road North. She sent a text to the Pickerington Police Department for help via 911, but the scary moment was exacerbated when she received a message in response, stating texts to 911 were not accepted in her area.
"I texted 911 because I knew I couldn't talk and because I'd used that service (via text) in Columbus," Cramer said. "I was dismayed and knew I needed to make a decision quickly."
Rather than leave her son, who was strapped into a car seat, in the vehicle as she ran for help, Cramer called 911, and her son instinctively took control of the situation.
Although they had lived in Pickerington less than four months at the time, Michael was able to describe landmarks that helped Pickerington police officers and Violet Township firefighters respond and get his mother the help she needed.
"I couldn't even tell him to talk because I couldn't talk," Cramer said. "As soon as the dispatcher came on over my Bluetooth, my son said, 'My mom needs help.'"
What otherwise might have been a more serious incident was averted, but Cramer could not stop thinking about how someone in her situation or a victim of domestic violence might not be able to get help because of the 911 system's shortcoming.
That prompted her to email Pickerington Mayor Lee Gray, who responded almost immediately, Cramer said.
"He called me, and we just had a great conversation," Cramer said.
As a result of their talk, Gray, City Manager Greg Butcher and police Chief Tod Cheney sought an Ohio Department of Commerce grant to upgrade the city's 911 services to Next Generation 9-1-1, an internet protocol-based system that enables the exchange of digital information, including 911 text messages and, eventually, photos and videos.
A $77,326.01 grant was awarded and will be backed by funding from the Fairfield County 911 Wireless Fund, so the upgraded services, which cost a total of $128,000, will be added late this year or early 2021 at no cost to the city.
Next Generation 9-1-1 technology will allow people to text 911, and dispatchers will be able to identify their location and send help, according to information provided by Gray's office.
The upgrade also will allow for more efficient management of emergencies and call overload by easing the transfer of 911 calls among jurisdictions, as well as more precisely identifying the location of cellular 911 callers through GPS coordinates, city officials said.
"This grant to upgrade our 911 system to Next Generation technology will allow our department to have the most up-to-date dispatching and 911 systems that are currently available," Cheney said.
"Seconds matter in emergency situations, and this technology allows first responders to more quickly deliver their potential life-saving services to the citizens of Pickerington and Violet Township."
Cheney credited Gray and the police department's chief dispatcher, Carolyn Sharp, with securing the grant.
"We're very appreciative of this grant and the additional funding from the county, but we were going to get this technology in Pickerington one way or another," Gray said. "The city was prepared to find the funding.
"The safety of our residents remains a top priority, and myself, as well as our council members, agreed that this absolutely needed to happen.
"The funding was a big help, though, as we didn't have to spend any taxpayer money," he said.
Looking back on the incident, Cramer marvels at her son's heroics and said she appreciates emergency responders who had arrived to help her, as well as the mayor's rapid response to her email.
"I was overly impressed that (Gray) was so responsive to it," she said. "If it can help a lot of people, great.
"If it can help just one person, that would be awesome."