911 center may use text messages to receive emergency calls

In an emergency situation, you pick up a phone to dial 911. Soon you may be able to use text messages or other wireless communication to let first responders know you need help immediately.

Charleston County Consolidated Dispatch Center Director Jim Lake says these days we live in an increasingly mobile and wireless society. He hopes to put some new technology in place at the center, which he describes as the next generation of 911.

"When we talk Next Generation 911, we're talking about all these data bases, internet technology, that we can combine to bring all of that information into the dispatch center, as well as to the field responders out on the street, which is going to allow them to give better service to customers," Lake said.

He says Nextgen 911 would allow dispatchers to receive information or pictures by text message, instant message, or other online communication, and it would be sent over a secure internet network.

911 centers are also looking at being able to take videos from wireless devices from programs like Facetime or Sky, to be able to get information about emergency situations.

Lake says 911 centers sometimes get messages for help through social media websites, but he says people can't reach dispatch that way at this time.

Charleston County says it is looking at places like Raleigh, where local governments are already trying out the technology.

"The challenge on our side from technology, is to purchase those right components that will allow us to be ready when the network is built, we are ready to receive those types of calls, that type of information," Lake said.

Charleston County is in the process of building and moving into a new 911 dispatch center on Palmetto Commerce Parkway in North Charleston, by March of next year. Lake says he hopes that some of the Nextgen 911 technology can be put in place by that time.

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